Final Chapters in 2019

By Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

Every year at this time we pay homage to those we have recently lost. The website has a good list of famous authors who left us this year. Let’s look at a few.

One of the giants who breathed her last in 2019, Judith Krantz, made it all the way to 91. If you somehow haven’t heard of her, she titled her autobiography “Sex and Shopping,” which should tell you everything you need to know about her genre.

At the opposite end of the literary spectrum from Krantz, Toni Morrison shared her insights on what it means to be an African-American woman in our country. In 1988, she won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “Beloved,” perhaps her best-known work. She won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993, a first for an African-American woman, and she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. She also wrote children’s books with her son Slade, and she was on the board of the New York Public Library. She was 88.

Another great African-American author who passed away this year was Ernest Gaines, who was 86. Two of his many books, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974) and “A Lesson Before Dying” (1999) were made into TV movies, both of which starred Cicely Tyson.

Because I’m a Georgia boy, I have to give a shout out to Anne Rivers Siddons. She was born in Fairburn, a little south of and a world away from Atlanta, in 1936. She was 83 at the time of her death, and the author of 19 novels. “Many of them set in Atlanta," according to my hometown newspaper, "and all of them centered around strong Southern women.” As a side note, Stephen King wrote that her 1978 horror novel, “The House Next Door,” was “well planned and brilliantly cast.” “Peachtree Road” is probably her best-known novel.

Herman Wouk, who knocked it out of the park with “The Caine Mutiny” in 1951, almost made it to 104—missing that milestone by 10 days! Many librarians will remember him as the author of Big Books like “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” both weighing in at around 1,000 pages and many pounds. “I’m sorry sir, but no, you can’t renew it for a third time.”

In the "much too soon" category, Tony Horwitz died suddenly at age 60 while on a walk in Washington, DC. The son of a children’s book editor and author, he got his start in journalism. Among other publications, he wrote for The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Probably his best-known book is “Confederates in the Attic,” published in 1998. In it, he tells the story of traveling and working with Civil War reenactors. The book often takes a humorous view of the pastime, if that’s the right word. He described his kind of writing as “participatory history.”

Some other literary figures we said goodbye to in 2019: Two critics, Harold Bloom (89) and Clive James (89), who was also a novelist and poet. We also lost poets John L’Hereux (84), who was also a novelist and painter, Mary Oliver (83), and Ciaran Carson (70.) In the world of kid lit, we bid farewell to Judith Kerr (95), who wrote and illustrated “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” and more than 30 other books, and Gerald L. Holmes (74), who illustrated 74 Hank the Cowdog books. Read ’em and try not to weep.

In addition to the real authors we said goodbye to this year, we also lost fictional author Harlan Thrombey (85), one of the main characters in the movie Knives Out. According to people who wonder about these kinds of things, his character was a cross between Agatha Christie, who put her pen down in 1976, and Stephen King, who’s still going strong. It’s a great movie for mystery lovers as well as Daniel Craig lovers. Read more here.

So, that about wraps it up. If you’d like to spend a little longer thinking back on 2019, here are a few links to explore.

Parade — We Remember: 50 Stars, Athletes, Authors and Others We Lost in 2019

Us Magazine — Celebrity Deaths in 2019: Stars We’ve Lost

The New York Times — Notable Deaths 2019: Books

And if you’d like to look ahead to 2020 from a library point of view, try this forward-looking piece by my better half!