Dead Folks: Writers
A look at some of the notable individuals who passed away in 2008.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel wrote books that focused on his interviews with ordinary Americans. He called his style “guerrilla journalism” and is credited with establishing oral history as a viable genre. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls. If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview,” he has said of his interview approach. His interviews ranged from former slaves to Ku Klux Klan members. He acknowledged his time managing Chicago hotels popular with blue-collar workers as an indispensable part of his education as a writer and observer. He was blacklisted from radio and TV during the McCarthy red scare, but returned to radio in the mid-1950s for a 45-year run of his own show. (96) —ER
David Foster Wallace
An American writer of novels, short stories, and essays, Wallace is best known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest. He later covered John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign for Rolling Stone and cruise ships, tornadoes, and state fairs for Harper’s Magazine. Wallace suffered from depression for two decades and, at the advice of his doctor, quit taking medication in 2007 because of the side effects. He hanged himself a year later. (46) —ER
Few cartoonists indulged their fandom like Dave Stevens. He started out drawing storyboards for music videos and Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Fortunately, Stevens had all the right pop-culture obsessions needed to become a visionary geek. In 1982 his comic book The Rocketeer paid tribute to 1930s cinema and pulp fiction. The folks at Disney eventually turned the series into the best comics-based film of the 1990s.
Stevens was also an early advocate for pin-up queen Bettie Page. The Rocketeer’s girlfriend was drawn as a Bettie look-alike, and Stevens created a popular series of Bettie Page portraits. He always claimed that he was setting aside royalties for the then-reclusive Page, and kept his word when Bettie finally reemerged in the 1990s.
In a blow against geek stereotypes, Stevens was a handsome man who was briefly married to B-film sex siren Brinke Stevens. His high standards kept him from being as prolific as lesser artists, so it was even more frustrating to lose him at a relatively young age. (52, leukemia.) —JRT
A spy working for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, Roger Hall wrote a 1957 memoir titled You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger detailing his experiences at the OSS. The book pokes fun at military protocol while praising the dangerous tasks undertaken by undercover operatives. Among the goof-ups he recalls is his first mission: parachuting into Allied territory instead of Nazi territory because the OSS. had not been told that General Patton had pushed the Nazis back. He later refused an offer to join the CIA.
Working a variety of jobs as he struggled as a professional writer, he was once the public address announcer for Baltimore Colts football games until he was fired for announcing the following after a questionable referee call: “A seeing-eye dog has been lost. Will the owner please return it to the officials’ dressing room.” In later years, Hall reportedly took great delight when told that You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger had become a vital component of CIA training. Instructors would hold up a copy of his book and inform new agents, “Never let this happen again.” (89, natural causes) —ER
Hillerman authored 30 books, most famously the 18 that feature Navajo police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, which weave Native American lore into the mysteries so organically that the reader is not aware how much he is learning, not only about Navajo culture, but about the struggles of these people to deal with the dominant Anglo culture around them. The books are eminently readable, with a special kind of spookiness all their own. After the success of the books, Hillerman remembered that his first agent advised him that if he wanted to get published, he would have to “get rid of that Indian stuff.” (83.) —BG
A lot of inappropriate jokes were made when Dave Freeman fatally fell on his head while in his home at Venice, California. All the obituaries were obliged to note that Freeman was the coauthor of 1999′s 101 Things to Do Before You Die. (47, head injury.) —JRT