Authors who died in 2019
As 2019 comes to a close, we look back on the writers we lost this year.
Mary Oliver was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose rapturous odes to nature and animal life brought her critical acclaim and popular affection. Her poetry books included White Pine, West Wind and the anthology Devotions, which came out in 2017. She won the Pulitzer in 1984 for American Primitive and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poems. In 1998, she received the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Her fans ranged from fellow poets Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
Oliver died on Jan. 17, 2019. She was 83.
Diana Athill was a writer and editor before finding late-life fame as a frank and fearless memoirist. She worked as an editor for five decades at the Andre Deutsch publishing house, nurturing writers including John Updike, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Jean Rhys, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Mavis Gallant and V.S. Naipaul.
Athill wrote her first memoir, Instead of a Letter at the age of 43. She would go on to write several more memoirs and three novels. In 2008, she published Somewhere Towards The End, a book about coming to terms with aging and death. The book won the Costa Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
Athill died on Jan. 23, 2019. She was 101.
Andrea Levy was a prize-winning novelist who chronicled the hopes and horrors experienced by the post-Second World War generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. One of the first black British authors to achieve both critical and commercial success, Levy was best known for her novel Small Island, which tells the story of two couples, one English and one Jamaican, whose lives intertwine in London after the Second World War.
Her other novels include Every Light in the House Burnin, Never Far From Nowhere, Fruit of the Lemon and The Long Song, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She also published Six Stories and an Essay, in 2014, a series of short stories and a piece about her Caribbean heritage.
Levy died on Feb. 14, 2019. She was 62.
Canadian writer Patrick Lane wrote award-winning poetry that was was celebrated for its beautiful writing and deft examination of the human condition. Lane's first collection Letters from a Savage Mind was published in 1966. It was followed by books such as Separations in 1969, Beware the Months of Fire in 1974 and Poems, New and Selected, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 1978.
Other books include Winter and Mortal Remains — which were consecutively shortlisted for Governor General's Literary Awards — and Too Spare, Too Fierce, winner of the 1995 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. With his wife Lorna Crozier, a fellow Governor General's Literary Award recipient, he published the collection No Longer Two People.
In 2014, Lane was made an officer of the Order of Canada in honour of his vast and accomplished body of work.
Lane died on March 7, 2019. He was 79.
Canadian Teva Harrison was award-winning cartoonist known for her poignant comics about living with an incurable illness. Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. She began publishing short comics about her declining health and facing the end of her life in The Walrus.
Harrison later collected the comics in a graphic memoir called In-Between Days, published in 2016. Eye-opening and darkly funny, the book won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Non-Fiction and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
Harrison's poetry collection, Not One of These Poems is About You, will be published in Jan. 2020.
Harrison died on April 28, 2019. She was 42.
Canadian Wayson Choy was a Giller Prize-nominated novelist, memoirist and short story writer. His first novel, The Jade Peony, received the Trillium Book Award in 1995 and was a finalist in Canada Reads 2010, when it was defended by Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child.
The Jade Peony is set in Vancouver's Chinatown in the late 1930s and early 1940s and looks at a family of Chinese immigrants living in that time through the eyes of their three children. Choy was an important voice in portraying the lives and culture of Chinese Canadians.
His novel All That Matters won the Trillium Book Award in 2005 and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2004. He has also written two autobiographical works, Paper Shadows, and Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying.
In 2005, Choy was made a member of the Order of Canada.
Choy died on April 27, 2019. He was 80.
Jean Vanier was an award-winning Canadian humanitarian whose work helped improve conditions for people with developmental disabilities around the world. He founded the charity L'Arche, where people with and without disabilities live and work side-by-side as equal participants. The organization now maintains 154 residential communities in 38 countries.
He wrote about his philosophy and life in several books, including Life's Great Questions, Becoming Human, Community and Growth, Befriending the Stranger, Our Life Together and From Brokenness to Community.
Vanier was recognized throughout his life with the French Legion of Honour, the companion of the Order of Canada and the Templeton Prize.
Vanier died on May 7, 2019. He was 90.
American Herman Wouk was the versatile author of The Caine Mutiny and the Second World War epics The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.
He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for The Caine Mutiny, the classic Navy drama that made Captain Queeg a symbol of authority gone mad. He adapted his two-part war epic into a highly rated TV miniseries that aired in the 1980s.
Wouk died on May 17, 2019. He was 103.
Binyavanga Wainaina was one of Africa's best-known authors and gay rights activists. The Kenyan author won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing. He was a key figure in the artistic community who promoted local authors. His essay How to Write About Africa was one of the most popular ever published in Granta magazine.
After he came out, Time magazine named him one of the "100 most influential people," of 2014.
Wainaina died on May 21, 2019. He was 48.
Judith Kerr was the author and illustrator of the bestselling The Tiger Who Came to Tea and other beloved children's books.
The beguiling story of the tea-drinking tiger has been shared by parents with young children since it was first published in 1968 and has never been out of print. It has sold more than 5 million copies.
Her next book introduced Mog the cat, who starred in some 15 books and developed a large following until Goodbye Mog was published in 2002.
Kerr died on May 22, 2019. She was 95.
Judith Krantz wrote million-selling novels such as Scruples and Princess Daisy, which engrossed readers worldwide with their steamy tales of the rich and beautiful. Krantz wrote for Cosmopolitan and Ladies Home Journal magazines before discovering, at age 50, the talent for fiction. Her first novel — Scruples in 1978 — became a bestseller, as did the nine that followed.
Krantz's books have been translated into 52 languages and sold more than 85 million copies worldwide. They inspired a series of hit miniseries with the help of her husband, film and television producer Steve Krantz.
Krantz died on June 22, 2019. She was 91.
Canadian Howard Engel was the author of the Benny Cooperman detective novels and the co-founder of the Crime Writers of Canada.
The Benny Cooperman series, which included more than 10 titles, began in 1980. The first book, The Suicide Murders, introduced readers to an eccentric small town investigator from the fictional town of Grantham, Ont. — inspired by St. Catharines — who confronted murder cases with a sardonic, unassuming ease.
In July 2001, Engel suffered a stroke, losing his ability to read, in a condition known as Alexia sine agraphia. Engel's memoir The Man Who Forgot How to Read also documents his experience with the condition.
His other books include the nonfiction book Lord High Executioner and the novel Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell and Murder in Space, co-written with his wife Janet Hamilton.
Engel was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2007.
He died on July 16, 2019. He was 88.
Toni Morrison was an iconic American writer. She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, awarded in 1993.
Her novel Beloved, in which a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
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Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970 at the age of 39. Morrison went on to have a long and acclaimed career, publishing novels like Song of Solomon, Jazz, Sula, Paradise and A Mercy and essay collections like The Source of Self-Regard, as well as plays and an opera.
Morrison received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.
Morrison died on Aug. 5, 2019. She was 88.
Desmond Morton was a renowned historian, author and professor at Montreal's McGill University. He authored more than 40 books on Canadian history and was a frequent commentator in the media on current events.
Morton was a graduate of the Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean and the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as Oxford University and the London School of Economics in the U.K.
He was founding director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and professor in McGill's history department from 1998 to 2006.
He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996.
Morton died on Sept. 4, 2019. He was 81.
György (George) Konrád was a writer and sociologist who was an iconic figure of Hungary's dissident movement while the country was under communist rule.
Known internationally for books like his 1969 novel The Case Worker and his 2007 memoir A Guest in My Own Country: A Hungarian Life, Konrád was considered a steadfast advocate for individual freedoms. He was president of the writers' association PEN International from 1990 to 1993 and president of the Academy of Arts in Berlin from 1997 to 2003.
His work was rewarded with the prestigious Herder Award, conferred by German and Austrian universities, in 1983, an event not announced in Hungary at the time.
Konrád died on Sept, 13, 2019. He was 86.
Graeme Gibson was a Canadian writer and conservationist. He was the long-time partner of celebrated writer Margaret Atwood.
He published four critically acclaimed novels: Five Legs, Communion, Perpetual Motion and Gentleman Death, and a nonfiction book, Eleven Canadian Novelists Interviewed by Graeme Gibson. The latter book included a conversation with Atwood, his future partner.
Gibson took on many leadership roles throughout his life. He co-founded the Writers' Trust of Canada and Writers' Union of Canada and served as president of PEN Canada. He has also been a council member of World Wildlife Fund Canada and chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory.
He's received numerous lifetime achievement awards for his writing and advocacy, including the Harbourfront Festival Prize and Toronto Arts Award. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 1992.
Gibson died on Sept. 18, 2019. He was 85.
Alfred Alvarez was a critic and author who helped shape the modern poetry canon in his native England. Writing alternately as A. Alvarez or Al Alvarez, he had a long, productive and controversial career.
He began as a highly influential critic, who as poetry editor of the Observer, was an early champion of Sylvia Plath, her then-husband Ted Hughes, John Berryman and others he believed would enliven contemporary poetry.
He would go on to write novels and poems and to complete nonfiction books about life "beyond the fiddle" of the book world, whether rock climbing (Feeding the Rat), swimming (Pondlife), the search for oil in the North Sea (Offshore) or poker (The Biggest Game In Town).
Alvarez died on Sept. 23, 2019. He was 90.
Harold Bloom was an eminent critic and Yale University professor whose seminal The Anxiety of Influence and melancholy regard for literature's old masters made him popular.
Bloom wrote more than 20 books and prided himself on making scholarly topics accessible to the general reader.
He appeared on bestseller lists with such works as The Western Canon and The Book of J, was a guest on Good Morning America and other programs and was a National Book Award finalist and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
A readers' poll commissioned by the Modern Library ranked The Western Canon at No. 58 on a list of the 20th century's best nonfiction English-language books.
Bloom died on Oct. 14, 2019. He was 89.
Ernest J. Gaines was an American novelist whose poor childhood on a small Louisiana plantation town germinated the stories of black struggles that grew into universal stories of grace and beauty.
He wrote eight books. His novel A Lesson Before Dying, published in 1993, was an acclaimed classic. Both The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) and A Gathering of Old Men (1984) became honoured television movies.
Other books include Of Love and Dust (1967), Bloodline (1968), A Long Day in November (1971) and In My Father's House (1978).
In addition to the MacArthur and numerous other awards, Gaines received prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations.
Gaines died on Nov. 5, 2019. He was 86.
Clive James was an Australian journalist, poet, essayist, author and entertainer who had a long career as a writer and broadcaster in the U.K. James contributed to the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books, writing books, reviewing television for The Daily Telegraph and hosting Saturday Night Clive, The Clive James Show and other TV programs.
His bestselling book Cultural Amnesia celebrated 100 people whose lives he found inspirational.
James died on Nov. 24, 2019 He was 80.
Jonathan Miller was a British writer, performer, satirist, medical doctor, stage and opera director and artist. Miller rose to prominence in the early 1960s when he performed in Beyond the Fringe, a satirical theatre review that began at the Edinburgh Festival and became a hit in London and New York.
He went on to international success as a theatre and opera director, famous for his innovative re-imaginings of classic works. Miller was also a qualified physician and is widely known for The Body in Question, a television series about the history of medicine that aired in the late 1970s, and was also published as a book.
He is the author of The Afterlife of Plays and two books on visual art, including a collection of his own photographs called Nowhere in Particular.
Jonathan Miller was knighted in 2002 for his services to the arts.
Miller died on Nov. 27, 2019. He was 85.