We lost some bright lights in the literary world this past year: novelists, poets, non-fiction writers, children’s authors, and screenwriters. Below is a chronological list of a few who wrote their last “The End” in 2014. By no means is the following list complete; there are many, many more brilliant writers who died this past year. The following list, however, represent authors whose work can be checked out the McCracken County Public Library.
Robert J. Conley (December 29, 1940 – February 16, 2014)
Conley was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a prolific writer with over 60 titles to his credit, spanning fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Conley’s work primarily focused on the Old West, and he was particularly noted for his depictions of historical Cherokee figures. In 2007 he received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Native Writers’ Circle of Americas, and before his death in February, Conley was named the 2014 recipient of the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature.
Harold Ramis (November 21, 1944 – February 26, 2014)
While perhaps most recognized for some of his directorial and on screen work (particularly as Egon from Ghostbusters), Ramis was the screenwriter for over fifteen films, including some of the absolute funniest movies of all time: Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. Four of those movies (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Animal House, Caddyshack) are on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. Many film buffs and critics point to Groundhog Day as the crowning achievement of his career.
Sherwin Nuland (December 8, 1930 – March 3, 2014)
Nuland was a surgeon and professor of bioethics and medicine at Yale University. He was also the author of over a dozen books of non-fiction, including The Art of Aging, The Soul of Medicine and The Wisdom of the Body. His book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (1994), was a New York Times best seller, as well as a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the National Book Award.
Joe McGinniss (December 9, 1942 – March 10, 2014)
McGinnis was a journalist and author of a dozen novels who made a splash when his first book, The Selling of the President, landed on the New York Times bestseller list. He was 26 at the time, making him the youngest writer with that distinction. The book remained on the NYT Bestseller list for 31 weeks. In the 80’s McGinniss published a trio of true-crime books (Fatal Vision, Blind Faith, and Cruel Doubt) which are still considered to be pinnacles of the genre. His latest book, published in 2011, was an unauthorized biography of Sara Palin entitled The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin.
Peter Matthiessen (May 22, 1927 – April 5, 2014)
Three times Peter Matthiessen was the winner of the National Book Award, most recently in 2008 for his book Shadow Country. Besides fiction like Shadow Country and At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Matthiessen also wrote award-winning non-fiction (like the Snow Leopard), engaged in wilderness and environmental writing, and co-founded the literary journal, The Paris Review. He was also a CIA agent! In 2010 he received the William Dean Howells Medal (awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters) for Shadow Country.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (March 6, 1927 – April 17, 2014)
While also a journalist, short story writer, and screen writer, Colombian writer Garcia Marquez garnered worldwide recognition for his novels (Love in the Time of Cholera, Autumn of the Patriarch, Chronicle of a Death Foretold). His novel, A Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), is considered a masterwork and firmly established him as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Garcia Marquez is often associated with the literary genre magical realism, in which the fantastical world intrudes on the real one; his mastery of the genre is particularly evident in short stores like “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.” In 1982, Garcia Marquez was award the Nobel Prize in Literature for “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts. Remarking upon Garcia Marquez’s death this past April, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos called him “the greatest Colombian who has ever lived.”
Mary Stewart [September 16, 1916 – May 9, 2014]
By the time of her death at the age of 97, more than five million copies of Mary Stewart’s books had been sold. Cited in her obituary in the Guardian newspaper, Stewart is credited with launching a “whole new strand of popular writing: romantic suspense.” She is best known for her Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) which told the story of the famed wizard’s upbringing and early years.
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)
Maya Angelou’s talents were so varied that she was a well-respected dancer, singer, and actress on Broadway before she became a serious writer. But she solidly made her mark on the world and became a household name with her books, starting with her first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which earned her international acknowledgement and praise. Angelou went on to publish seven memoirs and several books of poetry and essays, as well as scripts for plays, television, and film. Angelou delivered her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, the first inaugural recitation since Robert Frost read his poem “The Gift Outright” at Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou’s awards and honors are far too numerous to mention in this short article, but they do include over fifty honorary degrees, the National Medal of Arts, the Lincoln Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Eric Hill (September 7, 1927 – June 6, 2014)
Eric Hill was an English author and illustrator world renowned for his character Spot the Dog. In 1976, Hill created the character for his son, and in 1980 he published the first of his Spot books, Where’s Spot? The book was an immediate success and prompted the writing of several dozen more “Spot” titles. The playful puppy also became a popular British and American television show. To date, it’s estimated that Hill’s books have sold more than 60 million copies.
Daniel Keyes (August 9, 1927 – June 15, 2014)
Keyes started his writing career as an editor for pulp magazines and comic books, at one point working with Stan Lee of Marvel Comic fame. It was during that time that Keyes began developing a story called “Brainstorm” which was the inspiration for his Hugo Award winning short story “Flowers for Algernon,” which then became the Nebula Award winning novel of the same name. In 1968, the book was adapted for the screen, becoming the film Charly. Though Keyes would write several novels in his career, none are as beloved as his first.
Paul Mazursky (April 25, 1930-June 30, 2014)
Mazursky started his show business career as an actor, but soon found greater success behind the camera as a writer and director, primarily in comedies. His writing career began with The Danny Kaye television show, but soon moved on to feature films. He wrote or co-wrote such classics as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Harry and Tonto, An Unmarried Woman, Moscow on the Hudson, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Mazursky was nominated for five Academy Awards, which included three for Best Original Screenplay, two for Best Adapted Screenplay, and one for Best Picture.
Walter Dean Myers (August 12, 1937 – July 1, 2014)
Myers wrote over 100 books, including picture books and non fiction, but he is best known for his writing for young adults, especially Fallen Angels, The Glory Field, and Monster. His contributions to the world of teen literature has made him a two time Newberry Award Nominee, as well as the first ever Michael L. Printz Award winner for his novel Monster. In 2010, Myers was the US nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award. For the two years before his death (2012-2013) Myers served as the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in efforts raise awareness about literacy and education.
Nadine Gordimer (November 20, 1923 – July 13, 2014)
While South African writer Nadine Gordimer has garnered the most attention with her novels (like The Conservationist, The Burger’s Daughter, and The Pickup) she got her first bit of notoriety with the publication of a short story in the New Yorker in 1951. She continued to write both, and in her long and prolific career, Gordimer published fifteen novels and twenty collections of stories. As a South African author, her she was often outspoken on issues of morality and race, particularly apartheid, which made her not only a respected author, but also a critical activist for civil rights. In 1991, Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, recognized as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has been of very great benefit to humanity.”
Galway Kinnell (February 1, 1927 – October 28, 2014)
Kinnell was a poet who in his lifetime published over fifteen collections. He cites early poetic influences of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Kinnell used the vehicle of poetry to address social issues, often civil rights, stating that “nobody would write poetry if the world seemed perfect.” He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was the poet Laureate of Vermont.
R.A. Montgomery (March 9, 1936 – November 9, 2014)
Raymond Almiran Montgomery started as a publisher, cofounding a small house called Vermont Crossroads Press. In 1995 an author named Edward Packard approached Montgomery with the first book in a new children’s series called Choose Your Own Adventure. Vermont Crossroads Press would ultimately publish more than 230 titles in this series that have now sold more than 250 million copies. Montgomery would write more than 50 of these titles himself.
P.D. James (August 3, 1920 – November 27, 2014)
British author PD James’s very name is synonymous with the detective novel. The desire to write had been instilled in her at a young age, though tragic familial and marital situations kept her from it until 1962. With her publication of Cover her Face, James’s first novel, the world was introduced to her most famous character, Adam Dalgliesh, police commander and poet. She would go on to write thirteen more Dagliesh mysteries, as well as many other books. While she was formally inducted as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, she was more commonly known as the Queen of crime fiction.
Mark Strand (April 11, 1934 – November 29, 2014)
Strand received a measure of fame and respect that is rarely experienced by contemporary poets. In a writing career that spanned fifty years and more than fifteen collections, Strand was awarded the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur “Genius” Award, and a Gold Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. From 1990-1991, Strand served as the United States Poet Laureate.
Kent Haruf (February 24, 1943 – November 30, 2014)
With his novels, Haruf managed to walk the very difficult line between what is considered popular and literary fiction. His first novel, The Tie That Binds, received a Whiting Foundation Award. His novel Plainsong was both a U.S. bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent novel, Benediction, was a featured book at our library’s “From Off the Shelf Discussion.”
Norman Bridwell (February 15, 1928 – December 12, 2014)
Bridwell created one of the most beloved children’s book characters of all time…Clifford the Big Red Dog. With over 40 Clifford books, as well as a Clifford television series, stage musical, merchandise, and even a balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, it’s hard to believe the iconic figure almost wasn’t discovered. Bridwell had been interviewing for a job as a children’s book illustrator and had been rejected by fifteen publishing house. While interviewing at Harper & Row, an editor suggested he try turning one of the drawings in his portfolio into a story. That was the humble beginning for Clifford who has now sold over 126 million copies in thirteen different languages