Archive for the ‘Deaths’ Category

In the News: Maya Angelou

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

Not only can the internet give people second lives, it can give them second deaths.

News is floating around that Maya Angelou has died, which indeed she has, but three years ago.

Mashable explains how a FaceBook posting confused people, making them think she had just died.

Still, it’s lovely to see all the tributes to her and a good time to revisit the PBS documentary about her remarkable life, And Still I Rise.

Author Denis Johnson Dies

Monday, May 29th, 2017

National Book Award-winning novelist and the author of Tree of Smoke and the short story collection Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson, has died. He was 67.

NPR called him “A protean stylist who made a career of defying readers’ expectations, he crafted fiction, poetry and reportage that was often as unsparing as it was unconventional.”

The NYT writes that Johnson wrote with “extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor.”

In his heartfelt and quote filled appreciation, David L. Ulin, the former book critic of the Los Angeles Times, says “Denis Johnson ought to have been exempt. To write as he did, in this crucible of a world, it ought to be worth more than to die on Wednesday at 67, or perhaps to die at all. Think of the transcendent power of his sentences, the ruthless honesty, the unexpected turns.”

The New Yorker says of Johnson “He was an uneven writer, but even his most forgettable work throbbed with his irreducibly American voice, idiomatically vivid, veering between hardboiled banter and hyperacute physical and emotional immediacy—the banter often darkly comic, the description darkly ecstatic, observation so keen and compressed and so idiosyncratic that in bursts of just a few short sentences it could achieve a visionary quality.”

The Washington Post and New York Magazine offer appreciations as well.

His newest book, a reissue of his first two poetry collections, The Man Among the Seals & Inner Weather (UP New England/Carnegie Mellon) will be published this September.

Pirsig’s Passing

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

9780060589462_1aa82Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, (HC/William Morrow; BBC Audio), died on Monday. He was 88.

Pirsig, a college writing instructor, became an overnight sensation in 1974 when Zen was published. It sold a million copies in its first year, remained a bestseller for a decade, and earned him a Guggenheim fellowship. Reading it became a right of passage for many and remains so to this day.

The NYT writes that the book “ranged widely in its concerns, contemplating the relationship of humans and machines, madness and the roots of culture … in seeking to reconcile humanism with technological progress, [it was] perfectly timed for a generation weary of the ’60s revolt against a soulless high-tech world dominated by a corporate and military-industrial order.”

In seeking to explain the book’s popularity and cult-like following, the NYT quotes Pirsig himself, who wrote on his website, “I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts … and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else.”

The New Yorker linked the book to Herman Melville while The New York Times earlier connected it to Thoreau.

Pirsig wrote only one other book, the less successful Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (PRH/Bantam).

The Washington Post, L.A. Times, and NPR also offer remembrances.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal Dies

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

9780811868655Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal has died at 51 from cancer.

She is known for her children’s books such as Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle Books), Spoon (Hachette/Disney-Hyperion), and Little Oink (Chronicle Books). She also wrote books for adults, including two memoirs. Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal (PRH/Dutton) and Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (PRH/Broadway).

In the news this month for her deeply emotional “Modern Love” column in the NYT, Rosenthal wrote about dying and the love she has for her husband, Jason, before offering him up to a future wife. She writes that she hopes “the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.” Thus far the column has generated 1,544 comments.

As well as her books, she leaves behind a TED Talk and several video pieces. Most of all she leaves a legacy of joyful work. Writing in the NYT Book Review in 2009, Bruce Handy says in a glowing review, “Her books radiate fun the way tulips radiate spring: they are elegant and spirit-lifting.”

Here are some examples on film of that spirit:

Paula Fox Dies

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

9780689845055Newbery Medal-winning author Paula Fox has died at 93.

9780312425197She wrote over 20 novels for young people, including her 1974 Newbery winner, The Slave Dancer (S&S/Atheneum; Penguin Audio/Listening LibraryOverDrive Sample), about the African slave trade. She won the National Book Critics Circle award for her 2001 memoir Borrowed Finery (Macmillan/Picador; OverDrive Sample). She also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award and a PEN Literary award. One of her best-known novels for adults, Desperate Characters (Norton; OverDrive Sample), was adapted into a film starring Shirley MacLaine.

9780393318944In spite of early accolades, her work was largely forgotten, writes the LA Times, until Jonathan Franzen called Desperate Characters an overlooked masterpiece in a 1996 Harper’s magazine piece about American fiction headlined “Perchance to dream.” That in turn caught the eye of a young Norton editorial assistant, Tom Bissell and the publisher reissued all of Fox’s adult novels, with introductory essays by Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, Frederick Busch, Andrea Barrett, and others. David Foster Wallace was also an admirer, calling Desperate Characters “A towering landmark of postwar Realism. . . . A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved.”

The NYT says “Her characters are complex, self-contained and often withdrawn, but their ruminative interior states lend the narratives a quiet luminosity … As a stylist, she was known for her impeccable, almost anatomical, depictions of the material world. In the Paula Fox universe, objects take on heightened importance, as if rearing up to fill the gaps left by characters’ failure to make real connections.”

Writer Carrie Fisher Dies

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

9780399173592_8cf50She may be remembered by many as Princess Leia in Star Wars but Carrie Fisher, who died at 60 on Tuesday, was also known for the sharp writing, raw honesty, and biting humor in her four novels and three memoirs, all of which are still in print.

Her first books were heavily autobiographical novels, Postcards From the Edge (1987),  Surrender the Pink (1990),  Delusions of Grandma (1993), and The Best Awful (2004; S&S Audio) (all from S&S).

But she found her true calling in memoirs, beginning with Wishful Drinking (2008; S&S Audio; Ocvr9781439153710_9781439153710_hrverDrive Sample). As Entertainment Weekly observed of that book, “Fisher’s voice is freer, now that she’s no longer hiding behind the coy scrim of calling her perky howls of pain ‘novels’ … Her stories bubble, bounce, and careen with an energy as loose as the jauntiness in The Best Awful was tight.”

Wishful Drinking was adapted from Fisher’s one-woman stage show, which also became the 2010 HBO documentary. UPDATE: HBO will re-air the show on Jan 1 at 9 pm ET.

postcards-from-the-edge-9781439194003_hrShe died after returning from a trip to London to promote her most recent book, The Princess Diarist (PRH/Blue Rider Press; Penguin/BOT Audio; OverDrive Sample).

It garnered headlines for revealing what many had already suspected, that she and Harrison Ford had an affair during the filming of Star Wars, but it also received positive reviewsThe Guardian wrote that it is “smart and funny. The pages crackle with self-deprecating one-liners, chatty observations and the singular wisdom that comes with being forever immortalised in the minds of teenage boys in a metal bikini and chained to a slug.”

The Princess Diarist is currently #1 on Amazon’s sales rankings, with Wishful Drinking at #7. Postcards From the Edge is right behind it at #8.

Libraries are also seeing demand with holds skyrocketing, passing 15:1 ratios on titles that have been weeded down to just a few copies, such as Postcards From the Edge. Libraries own more copies of the most recent book, The Princess Diarist. Nevertheless, it is showing strong holds, topping a 6:1 ratio at several libraries we checked.

Shirley Hazzard Dies

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

9780140107470The Australian-born author of the National Book Award-winning The Great Fire (Macmillan/Picador, orig. pub. date 2003) and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Transit of Venus (PRH/Penguin, orig. pub. date 1980), Shirley Hazzard, has died at age 85.

The NYT describes her fiction as “dense with meaning, subtle in implication and tense in plot, often with disaster looming [where] Catastrophes are accompanied by life’s cruelties.”

The AP writes she “wrote of love affairs disrupted and intensified by age, distance and war … of strained and cold relationships and the inevitable search for outside comfort … She was a writer of pre-digital tastes who composed on a yellow legal pad and had no interest in computers or even an answering machine. Her novels, too, had a vintage wealth of detail and introspection that led to comparisons to Henry James.”

9780231173261_c13e8The first story she submitted to The New Yorker, “Woollahra Road,” was “fished from the slush pile by the fiction editor William Maxwell and published in 1961,” says the NYT.

Her most recent work is the 2016 collection of essays, We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, Shirley Hazzard, edited by Brigitta Olubas (Columbia University Press).

William Trevor, Short Story Master, Dies

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

9780143115960William Trevor, the author the NYT describes as writing, “mournful, sometimes darkly funny short stories and novels about the small struggles of unremarkable people [that] placed him in the company of masters like V. S. Pritchett, W. Somerset Maugham and Chekhov,” has died at the age of 88.

Born in Ireland and a long time resident of Britain, his characters were often “hanging on to the bottom rung of the lower middle class, [waging] unequal battle with capricious fate,” the NYT‘s continues.

“I’m very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people,” Trevor told Publishers Weekly in 1983.

While he wrote novels, Trevor saw himself as a short story author. The NYT‘s reports his saying “I’m a short-story writer who writes novels when he can’t get them into short stories … [my] novels are “a lot of linked-up short stories.” He told the Paris Review that a short story was “the art of the glimpse.”

The LA Times lists his honors: “He won one of Britain’s top literary prizes, the Whitbread, three times; was short-listed four times for the Booker Prize, most recently in 2002 for “The Story of Lucy Gault”; and was a perennial object of speculation as a potential Nobel literature laureate.”

He also earned praise from fellow authors. The LA Times further reports, “Graham Greene praised Trevor’s 1973 collection Angels at the Ritz as the best set of short stories since Dubliners, James Joyce’s 1914 collection.”

His last collection of short stories was selected as one of the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2010. In their glowing review, the paper says the book:

“assembles the stories from William Trevor’s last four collections, so that in effect it’s a sequel to the huge edition of his collected stories that came out in 1992. Together the two books add up to almost 2,000 pages of short fiction … and they are more than ample proof that Trevor is one of the two greatest short-story writers working in English right now. The other is Alice Munro, and no one else is even close.”

One of his last works, a short story for The New Yorker, is still available online.

Below is a reading by Trevor held in NYC’s 92nd Street Y:

An Everlasting Goodbye

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

9781250059291_abbf69780545376365The author of the children’s classic Tuck Everlasting (Macmillan/Square Fish) has died from lung cancer. Natalie Babbitt was 84 years old.

In addition to Tuck, which as been adapted into films and a Broadway play, Babbitt is also known for the Newbery Honor book Kneeknock Rise and the National Book Award finalist The Devil’s Storybook (both from (Macmillan/Square Fish). Five of her books have been named ALA Notable Children’s Books.

Her other honors include the inaugural E.B. White Award for achievement in children’s literature and being the U.S. nominee for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Bustle reports that Tuck, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2015, has sold over 3.5 million copies since publication and has never been out of print.

Her most recent published  book was The Moon Over High Street (Scholastic/Michael di Capua Books, 2011).

Gloria Naylor Dies

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

9780140066906_477a8The author of The Women of Brewster Place, a debut that earned the National Book Award, has died at 66 of heart failure, reports the NYT.

In addition to her best-known novel, she also wrote seven others including Linden Hills, Bailey’s Cafe, Mama Day, and The Men of Brewster Place. In all her novels, says the NYT, Naylor “addressed social issues including poverty, racism, sexism and gay rights, usually through intricately drawn black female characters.”

In 1989, The Women of Brewster Place was made into a miniseries by Oprah Winfrey, bringing even more attention to her writing.

Headlining their appreciation “Rest in Power,” Ebony writes Naylor’s “beautiful and complex portrayals of the lives of Black women inspired a generation of writers … A pioneer [she] fearlessly explored issues of race, sexuality, and spirituality in her work, opening the door for a wave of contemporary … writers like Bebe More-Campbell, Eric Jerome Dickey, Tina McElroy Ansa and others.”

Goodbye Llama Llama

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

9780451474575_e2c57Children’s author and illustrator Anna Dewdney died at 50 of  brain cancer on Sept. 3. She is known for her Llama Llama picture books, starting with Llama Llama Red Pajama. The series runs to nearly 20 titles and has sold more than 10 million copies, reports PW.

Librarians may also know Dewdney as a frequent speaker in schools and libraries and as an ardent supporter of children’s literacy. In 2013 she wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

“When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her a love of language … We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human. When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”

She was so committed to reading that she requested that, in lieu of a funeral,  people read to a child.

Two posthumous projects are in the works. PW reports that Dewdney had completed a picture book for Penguin titled, Little Excavator. It is scheduled for release in early June 2017 from Viking.

Netflix is also planning an animated Llama Llama series to air in 2017. Deadline Hollywood reports that Jennifer Garner is on board to voice Mama Llama. Netflix says that “The series is led by an all-star team of creators including Oscar-winning director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), director Saul Blinkoff (Doc McStuffins) [and] … legendary art director Ruben Aquino (Frozen, The Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan).”

Below is video of Dewdney at one of the places she loved, a book festival.

Berenstain Bears: A Passing

Friday, July 29th, 2016

9780394822860Jan Berenstain, famous as the co-author and illustrator of the Berenstain Bears books has died at age 88. With her husband, who died in 2005, she created over 300 titles, featuring Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister Bear. The books highlighted family life, learning from each other, being brave, and the everyday life lessons of early childhood.

In an obituary, the NYT reports that Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, served as their first editor and that the couple credited him “with helping them achieve their trademark simplicity in language and illustrations. That style made their books popular as reading primers, by helping toddlers see connections between stories and words on a page.”

Their first book came out in 1962, a story written in rhyme titled The Big Honey Hunt. It is still in print but the series itself has developed into animated TV shows, video games, and an iPhone app. After her husband’s death, Jan Berenstain worked on the books with their son Mike, who will take over the series with his brother.

Nineteen new Berenstain books are expected this year.


Lois Duncan Dies

Friday, June 17th, 2016

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The news of the death of Lois Duncan has brought an outpouring of warm appreciation for the pioneer YA suspense novelist. Even the site Jezebel took a break from snark to praise Duncan for taking “timeless literary themes—mystery, sin, longing, revenge and, of course, love—and [applying] them to teens without condescension.”

On NPR this morning, Petra Mayer says that “The Queen Of Teen Suspense” seemed to lose her taste for the genre after her  youngest daughter, Kait, was killed in 1989 in a crime that police called a random drive-by shooting. Duncan would not accept that explanation and devoted herself to trying to find the truth. According to Mayer, Warner Bros. had expressed interest in a documentary on the case just before Duncan’s sudden death.

Several movies and TV shows have been based on her books. In 2012, Stephenie Meyer bought the film rights to Down A Dark Hall. In 2014, a new adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer was announced 

Comics Legend Darwin Cooke
Dies at 53

Monday, May 16th, 2016

9781401248888_c2884Iconic Eisner-winning comics illustrator and writer Darwyn Cooke, has died of lung cancer. He was 53.

Of his many contributions he is perhaps best known for his revamp of DC Comics characters, Catwoman (working with Ed Brubaker) chief among them. He also worked on comic adaptations of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels and on a prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen.

DC co-publisher Dan DiDio said in a statement reported by USA Today:

“He was both compassionate and combative, approaching everything he did with a tenaciousness and temerity that is now unheard of in a world afraid to offend. This is an industry-wide loss that I feel personally, but the sadness is mitigated in the knowing that the beauty and grace of his art will forever stand the test of time and be a monument to all that is great about comics.”

Of his signature style, the L.A. Times writes:

“His work was ingrained with a sense of humanity and wonder pulled directly from his signature retro-touched style [of] fat, black lines, V-shaped men and hourglass cut women [that] fill each page with nostalgic charm and bold visuals … His style and taste … sound like a golden trumpet through the DC Comics catalog. It was loud, daring and it heralded hope.”

Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier may be his most exemplary work (also adapted into a animated direct-to-video film in 2008). It combines a deep knowledge of the DC universe with a strong sense of hope and justice and showcases his trademark style, as he imagines the Golden Age DC characters such as Superman and Batman meeting the Silver Age characters such as Green Lantern and Flash, creating new stories and pairings while reaching deep into the DC backfile. This approach, practiced frequently by other comics and comic films, is particularly well handled by Cooke.

9781401262457_e492fHe is the illustrator for a new title releasing this week, The Twilight Children written by Gilbert Hernandez (RH/Vertigo). The paperback release of DC: The New Frontier (RH/DC Comics) is due Jun 28.

Two of his works are rising on Amazon, the deluxe edition of DC: The New Frontier and Graphic Ink: The DC Comics Art of Darwin Cooke  (RH/DC Comics).

Many publications, from A.V. Club to Entertainment Weekly to the The New York Times offered tributes.

The best tribute is Cooke’s work itself. Below is a feature on the art in DC: The New Frontier.

Charles W. Robinson, Keeping the Public in Public Libraries

Monday, April 11th, 2016
Charles Robinson in1996, the year he retired as  Director of BCPL.  Credit: Sean Kief

Charles Robinson in1996, the year he retired as Director of BCPL.
Credit: Sean Kief

It seemed sadly fitting that, as the successful PLA Conference was in full swing in Denver, news arrived that Charles W. Robinson, former director of Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL), had died. Many of us had felt his absence at the conference, even as his ideas about public service continued to be fundamental to most of the meetings and conversations.

Charles relished getting together with colleagues at PLA. He enjoyed nothing more than taking a contrarian point of view and then proclaiming he “didn’t give a rat’s ass” if others agreed, all the while doing his level best to change their minds.

He was a bundle of contradictions. A man who passionately advocated for serving the people, he didn’t suffer fools gladly and would have been a disaster on a public service desk. Ready to go with his gut and implement any idea that struck him as smart, he also believed in long-range planning, creating and following dozens of carefully thought-out multiple-year plans. A strong believer in the intelligence of the library staff (one of his favorite sayings was “never try to bullshit the staff”) and in the importance of training and recognizing achievements, he was personally anything but warm and fuzzy.

One of his major achievements was to get local government to understand the importance of libraries, launching persuasive arguments based on data. He taught other directors to do the same and helped establish PLA’s Output Measures for Public Libraries, Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries and the annual Public Library Data Service, Statistical Report. 

After his retirement, Charles continued his influence as the editor of Library Administrator’s Digest, a roundup of news along with his inimitable comments, a monthly dose of Charles.

But it’s the personal memories of Charles that can be the most revealing. I have dozens, but the one that made the biggest impression occurred even before I met him. He hired me without an interview, based solely on my letter of application. Trying desperately to distinguish myself from crowds of applicants (under the influence of What Color is Your Parachute?), I wrote about my part-time job in the U. of Michigan Undergraduate Library’s Fines and Overdues Department, saying I particularly liked trying to help students work their way through our often draconian rules. I even bragged that one student I  helped not only sent a check for his overdue fines (thus allowing him to get his degree on time), but a separate check for me, to buy myself a beer to thank me for my efforts.

Charles read the letter and immediately yelled to the Human Resources Director, “Hire her!” When I got the call, I couldn’t quite believe it, but figured a place that could make decisions like that was a place I wanted to work. I took the job sight unseen.

When I joined BCPL, I thought I was lucky to get a job, little did I know I was embarking on a profession that became, as it did for Charles, a lifelong obsession.

I would love to hear your memories of Charles (by the way, while the rest of the profession knew his as “Charlie,” those of us who worked with him called him by his more formal name). Please enter them in the comments section below.

Donations can be made in Charles’s name to:

The Foundation for the Baltimore County Public Library 320 York Road, Towson MD 21204

Church of the Holy Comforter,130 W. Seminary Ave, Lutherville, MD 21093

Plans are under way for a celebration of Charles’s life at ALA Annual in Orlando, Fla.