Archive for the ‘Obituaries’ Category

purdy2James Purdy, whose dark, often savagely comic fiction evoked a psychic American landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation, died Friday in Englewood, N.J. He was 94 and lived in Brooklyn Heights. . . .

“Wayward and unclassifiable, Mr. Purdy, the author of the novels ‘Malcolm’ and ‘The Nephew,’ labored at the margins of the literary mainstream, inspiring veneration or disdain. His nearly 20 novels and numerous short stories and plays either enchanted or baffled critics with their gothic treatment of small-town innocents adrift in a corrupt and meaningless world, his distinctive blend of plain speech with ornate, florid locutions, and the hallucinatory quality of his often degraded scenes. . . .

“If Mr. Purdy made limited headway against what he called, in an autobiographical sketch, ‘the anesthetic, hypocritical, preppy and stagnant New York literary establishment,’ he was proclaimed ‘an authentic American genius’ by Gore Vidal and admired extravagantly by writers like Angus Wilson, John Cowper Powys and Edith Sitwell, who, reviewing the stories and short plays collected in ‘Children Is All’ (1962), wrote that Mr. Purdy would ‘come to be recognized as one of the greatest living writers of fiction in our language.’ (more @ NY Times)

RelatedWho is James Purdy? Edward Albee Tells

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kerouacradioJack Kerouac, author of “On the Road” and progenitor of the Beat Generation as well as subsequent generations of literary dreamers, was born on this date in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He died in 1969 at age 47.

Gilbert Millstein’s 1957 New York Times review of “On the Road,” which Dwight Garner called “probably the most famous book review in the history of [the] newspaper,” can be found here.

The following excerpt from “On the Road” describes Sal Paradise’s (Kerouac’s) first attempt at traveling west alone:

I’d been poring over maps of the United States in Paterson for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on, and on the road-map was one long red line called Route 6 that led from the tip of Cape Cod clear to Ely, Nevada, and there dipped down to Los Angeles. I’ll just stay on all the way to Ely, I said to myself and confidently started. To get to 6 I had to go up to Bear Mountain. Filled with dreams of what I’d do in Chicago, in Denver, and then finally in San Fran, I took the Seventh Avenue Subway to the end of the line at 242nd Street, and there took a trolley into Yonkers; in downtown Yonkers I transferred to an outgoing trolley and went to the city limits on the east bank of the Hudson River. If you drop a rose in the Hudson River at its mysterious source in the Adirondacks, think of all the places it journeys as it goes to sea forever — think of that wonderful Hudson Valley. I started hitching up the thing. Five scattered rides took me to the desired Bear Mountain Bridge, where Route 6 arched in from New England. It began to rain in torrents when I was let off there. It was mountainous. Route 6 came over the river, wound around a traffic circle, and disappeared into the wilderness. Not only was there no traffic but the rain come down in buckets and I had no shelter. I had to run under some pines to take cover; this did no good; I began crying and swearing and socking myself on the head for being such a damn fool. I was forty miles north of New York; all the way up I’d been worried about the fact that on this, my big opening day, I was only moving north instead of the so-longed for west. Now I was stuck on my northermost hangup. I ran a quarter-mile to an abandoned cute English-style filling station and stood under the dripping eaves. High up over my head the great hairy Bear Mountain sent down thunderclaps that put the fear of God in me. All I could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies. “What the hell am I doing up here?” I cursed, I cried for Chicago. “Even now they’re all having a big time, they’re doing this, I’m not there, when will I get there!” — and so on. Finally a car stopped at the empty filling station; the man and the two women in it wanted to study a map. I stepped right up and gestured in the rain; they consulted; I looked like a maniac, of course, with my hair all wet, my shoes sopping. My shoes, damn fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches, plantlike sieves not fit for the rainly night of America and the raw road night. But the people let me in and rode me back to Newburgh, which I accepted as a better alternative than being trapped in the Bear Mountain wilderness all night. “Besides,” said the man, “there’s no traffic passes through 6. If you want to go to Chicago you’d be better going across the Holland Tunnel in New York and head for Pittsburth,” and I knew he was right. It was my dream that screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes.

In Newburgh it had stopped raining. I walked down to the river and I had to ride back to New York in a bus with a delegation of schoolteachers coming back from a weekend in the mountains — chatter chatter blah-blah, and me swearing for all the time and money I’d wasted, and telling myself, I wanted to go west and here I’d been all day and into the night going up and down, north and south, like something that can’t get started. (via Literary Kicks)

Kerouac’s explanation of his “spontaneous prose” writing method can be found here.

Video and audio clips from Kerouac readings, as well as rare tapes of Kerouac and Neal Cassady, can be found here. More can be found here and here and here.

A video documentary, Jack Kerouac – King of the Beats, can be viewed here.


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bobguskindBob Guskind, the legendary Brooklyn blogger and founder of Gowanus Lounge, has died:

“After days of speculation inside and outside the blogosphere, much-liked journalist Robert Guskind died on Wednesday, the city Medical Examiner confirmed this morning. . . .

“In his prime, Guskind’s blog focussed a keen eye on city development projects with an objectivity and a level of reporting rare in the blog world.” (via The Brooklyn Paper)

The following video of Bob Guskind is via newyorkshitty, a blog about Greenpoint, Brooklyn:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Memorials to Guskind on other Brooklyn blogs can be found at: Dumbo NYC, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.

Guskind’s “flikr” photostream, featuring numerous sets of Brooklyn neighborhoods, can be found here.

Flatbush Gardener is maintaining a running list of online tributes to Guskind. The list gets longer by the hour.

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05foote-480Horton Foote, who chronicled a wistful American odyssey through the 20th century in plays and films mostly set in a small town in Texas and who left a literary legacy as one of the country’s foremost storytellers, died on Wednesday in Hartford. He was 92 and lived in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Wharton, Tex.

“Mr. Foote died after a brief illness, his daughter Hallie Foote said. He had recently been living in Hartford while adapting his nine-play “Orphans’ Home Cycle” into a three-part production that will be staged next fall at the Hartford Stage Company and the Signature Theater in New York. In a body of work for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards, Mr. Foote was known as a writer’s writer, an author who never abandoned his vision even when Broadway and Hollywood temporarily turned their backs on him.

“In screenplays for movies like “Tender Mercies,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Trip to Bountiful,” and in plays like “The Young Man From Atlanta” and “The Carpetbagger’s Children,” Mr. Foote depicted the way ordinary people shoulder the ordinary burdens of life, finding drama in the resilience by which they carry on in the face of change, economic hardship, disappointment, loss and death.” (more @ NY Times)

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upward“With Mr. Upward’s death, on Feb. 13 in Pontefract, England, the last living link was broken to writers like [Christopher] IsherwoodW. H. Auden and Stephen Spender who shaped English literature in the 1930s. In reporting Mr. Upward’s death, London newspapers said that at 105 he was Britain’s oldest author.

“His influence on his contemporaries was both literary and political, silly and serious. The Mortmere tales — for which biographers give the main credit to Mr. Upward — inspired Auden’s poetry. Isherwood sent manuscripts to Mr. Upward for judgment. Mr. Upward helped convert Spender to Communism.” (via NY Times)

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“Alfred A. Knopf Jr., who left the noted publishing house run by his parents to become one of the founders of Atheneum Publishers in 1959, died on Saturday. He was 90, the last of the surviving founders, and lived in New York City.”

(via NY Times)

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Robert Anderson, a playwright whose intimate emotional dramas like ‘Tea and Sympathy’ and ‘I Never Sang for My Father’ attracted big names to the Broadway stage if not always substantial audiences to Broadway theaters, died Monday at home in Manhattan. He was 91. . . .

“Mr. Anderson was a contemporary of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and though his reputation never ascended to the artistic heights that theirs did — his plays often walked a tightrope between realism and sentimentality — he was among the theater’s most visible, serious playwrights of the 1950s and ’60s.

“‘Tea and Sympathy,’ the story of a sensitive, artistic boy who is ostracized by his prep school classmates as a supposed homosexual but who is befriended — and ultimately sexually initiated — by the housemaster’s wife . . . ends with a scene considered salacious at the time and a famous final line. The housemaster’s wife, after leaving her husband, draws the student into her arms and says, ‘Years from now when you talk of this, and you will, be kind.'”

(via NY Times)

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dewey-martin“Dewey Martin, drummer for the short-lived but long-resonating rock band Buffalo Springfield whose career after the group split never ignited like those of his former band mates Neil Young and Stephen Stills, has died. He was 68.”

(via LA Times)

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“Milton Parker, who brought long lines and renown to the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan with towering pastrami sandwiches and a voluble partner who kibitzed with common folk and celebrities alike, died in Queens on Friday. He was 90 and lived in Manhattan. . . .

‘In the history of delicatessens, Milton Parker’s Carnegie Deli caused more heartburn to the Jewish world than anything I’ve ever heard of,’ Freddie Roman, the veteran borscht belt comedian, said this week on the savethedeli Web site. ‘His pastrami sandwich was incredibly much too large for human consumption.’” (via NY Times)

[Parker was born the same year as my father and both grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Parker’s passing reminds me of my father’s frequent boasts of having served in the same Army battalion as the owner of the Pastrami King, the venerable Queens Boulevard delicatessen that my father proudly referred to as the “Carnegie of Queens.”]


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The New York Times ran an obituary yesterday about Joseph Ades, “the white-haired man with the British accent, the expensive European suits and shirts,” who had been a fixture among the vendors at the Greenmarket in Manhattan’s Union Square. I was drawn to the article not because of a remembered encounter with Ades but because of my interest in the legal obstacles facing street vendors, often immigrants and people of color, in New York City. In the Times’ obit, David Hughes, the operations manager at the Greenmarket, noted that Mr. Ades conducted his business on the fringes of the market “because he never obtained a permit to do business there, and if he staked out a spot too close to the vendors, someone would complain and security guards would be alerted.” Although Ades managed to persist through this wink-wink arrangement, most street vendors are not so fortunate.

New York’s Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that serves “New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing,” several years ago established the “Street Vendor Project” to assist vendors who have been victims of New York’s aggressive “quality of life” crackdown (vendors have been denied access to licenses, restricted from streets closed to them at the urging of powerful business groups, or penalized with onerous fines for minor violations).

The most successful of the project’s public fundraisers is the “Vendy Awards,” a juried competition between five or six of New York’s best “street chefs,” with the winners determined by the attending public (who pay for the pleasure of sampling the various fare – all proceeds going to support the project’s work) and a panel of food “experts.” This past fall, the judges at the fourth annual event, held at the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, included well-known food writer and journalist Calvin Trillin.

As to Mr. Ades (R.I.P.), his story, as told in the obituary, is a romantic one, to be sure, but better to ask almost any New York City vendor for his or her story if you want the real word on the street.

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Book Review Widows Of EastwickWhile searching the web for articles on John Updike I was amused to learn that Updike’s “The Widows of Eastwick” had been shortlisted for this past year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award (he did not win, although he did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award).

One link led to another, which led to my thinking about the ubiquity of “pornography,” especially on the web. Shannon Rupp asserts that “the ubiquity of porn has rendered it invisible for most adults” and asks “why has pornographic imagery become such an acceptable part of public culture?” Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Spin magazine and son of the founder of Penthouse magazine, opines on the future of pornography here.

Finally, here is a video clip from a November, 2008 interview of John Updike by Charlie Rose in which the author considers his “feminist detractors.”

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johansson1Ingemar Johansson, the Swede who stunned the boxing world by knocking out Floyd Patterson to win the heavyweight title in 1959, has died. Johansson was 76.” (via ESPN)

[Sometimes a person, or an event, sticks in your head in ways you don’t necessarily appreciate until much later, perhaps not until the person dies or the event regains relevance.  I have been an avid sports fan, mostly of baseball, since I was a young boy growing up in the 1950s in a home with a sports-crazed father. I remember vividly my father’s shock, and disappointment, when Johansson KO’d Patterson in 1959 – my father went on for months about how it was the greatest upset he had ever seen in any sport.  The following year, in October 1960, just two months shy of my 8th birthday, my beloved New York Yankees were upset by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a classic seven-game World Series — classic if you rooted against the Yankees — ended by Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run. While the Yankees loss meant much more to me than the Patterson defeat, I think that together, the two famous upsets, one coming so soon after the other, “proved” to my nascent sports-fan’s sensibilities that the world of sports was a world in which anything — anything! — could happen. If so, Johansson is owed my thanks (as is my father, of course, and the still-despised Bill Mazeroski) for my lifelong love of sports.]


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updikeJoseph O’Neill, author of last year’s highly regarded novel, “Netherland” — one of the finest contemporary novels about New York City and one of the few novels “about” 9/11 worth reading (my very short list would also include “Saturday,” by Ian McEwan and “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud) — writes of the debt owed Updike by contemporary writers. For O’Neill, “The death of John Updike is an instant literary disaster.”  

Why Updike Matters (via Granta)


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upd0-005“My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

[My first encounter with Updike’s writings was during the summer of 1970 when I was required to complete a summer school course in American Literature to satisfy the requirements of my high school diploma that was provisionally bestowed that June.  As an “extra credit” project, I read Updike’s first novel, “The Poorhouse Fair,” which led me to consider his short story collection, “Pigeon Feathers.”  Updike’s anthology, which even he, apparently, considered among his finest work, kindled my everlasting appreciation for short story writing.  Updike also contributed one of the greatest sports essays ever written, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” about Ted Williams’ last major league game.]

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