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Best-selling thriller writer Tom Clancy dead at 66

Although details are scarce, various sources are reporting that Tom Clancy, best-selling author of books such as The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears has died. According to the National Post, no cause of death has been given. Clancy was 66 years old.

Widely touted as the leading practitioner of the so-called technothriller, Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels were perennial bestsellers in the 1980s and ’90s, and spawned a number of hit movies. Alec Baldwin played Ryan in the 1990 adaptation of The Hunt for Red October; Harrison Ford took over the role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger; and Ben Affleck stepped in for The Sum of All Fears.

Clancy may be better known to a younger generation for lending his name to several popular video game series, such as Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell.

From the CBC:

In the mid-1990s, he helped found Red Storm Entertainment, which released games — some based on his books, others on original ideas. Red Storm was later purchased by gaming giant Ubisoft, which continues to create games under the Clancy moniker.

“We are saddened to learn of Tom Clancy’s passing and our condolences go out to his family. Tom Clancy was an extraordinary author with a gift for creating detailed, engrossing fictional stories that captivated audiences around the world,” Ubisoft said in a statement.

The Ceeb also points out that (perhaps unsurprisingly) former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was a fan of Clancy’s fiction.

Clancy’s books were so rich in technical detail that many people assumed he had a background in covert operations or the military, although apparently this was not the case. Born in Baltimore, he worked in insurance before turning to writing.

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Irish poet Seamus Heaney dies

Noble laureate Seamus Heaney, widely considered to be one of the foremost poets of his era, died today at the age of 74.

From the BBC:

“The poet and Nobel laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness. The family has requested privacy at this time.”

Heaney’s publisher, Faber, said: “We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable.

“As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his work over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss.”

The winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Heaney was known to many for his popular 1999 translation of Beowulf, although his own poetry – from collections such as Wintering Out, Station Island, Field Work, and The Spirit Level – won accolades from critics and readers alike. An obituary in The New York Times states, “By some estimates he was the best-read living poet in the world at in recent decades [sic].”

In 2012, Heaney was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry.

A Catholic in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Heaney did not shy away from politics in his writing or his life, going so far as to recuse himself from consideration as Britain’s Poet Laureate after the death of Ted Hughes in 1999. (The position went to Andrew Motion.) Heaney addressed the incident in a 2009 interview with the Telegraph:

Did he turn down the laureateship 10 years ago for political reasons? “Partly,” he says, quickly adding that, “I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time … it’s just that the basis of my imagination, the basis of the cultural starting point, is off-centre.” This is a less forthright response than the one he gave in 1982, after being included in an anthology of British poets: “My passport’s green / No glass of ours was ever raised / to toast the Queen.” (He has lived in the Republic of Ireland since 1972.) His close friend Ted Hughes could write “mythological poems about the Queen Mother” because he was “an English patriot” – something Heaney could never have been.

In a 1997 interview with The Paris Review, Heaney talked about politics, poetry, and his experience teaching at Harvard. Asked about the way his approach to poetry had changed over the years, Heaney summed things up this way:

I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original center. In a way, no matter how wide the circumference gets, no matter how far you have rippled out from the first point, that original pulse of your being is still traveling in you and through you, so although you can talk about this period of your life and that period of it, your first self and your last self are by no means distinct.

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A.S.A. Harrison dead at 65: Updated

Q&Q was saddened to learn that Canadian author A.S.A. Harrison died on Sunday at the age of 65.

Harrison was the author of the non-fiction book Orgasms, published in 1974 by Coach House Press. And she was on the cusp of international success with her upcoming psychological thriller, The Silent Wife, which is to be published in June by Penguin Canada. The book is already an international sensation, with U.S. and U.K. editions due out in June, as well as a Dutch edition slated to pub in Sept., and a French edition due in 2014.

Canadian novelist Susan Swan, a close friend of Harrison’s, recalls meeting the latter in Toronto in the 1970s, when they were both involved in the city’s performance-art community. “I first met ASA when she came to my performance piece about Barbara Ann Scott at the Cinema Lumiere,” Swan writes in an email to Q&Q. “She knew Margaret Dragu, the choreographer and performance artist who was the star of the theatre piece, which was an attack on lady-like 1950′s femininity. I remember looking at ASA in the lobby and thinking she seemed like an interesting woman and writer. Our friendship began that moment.”

Swan, who considers Orgasms “an underground classic,” goes on to praise Harrison’s daring as an artist. “The ’70s were a glorious creative underground time in Toronto when conceptual art met feminism. Nobody was into money or careers then, just exploring our creativity and seeing where it took us.”

A statement from Penguin Canada reads, in part, “We are deeply saddened over the loss of a great woman and an incredibly gifted writer.” Harrison is survived by her partner of 30 years, a visual artist in Toronto.

UPDATE: Samantha Haywood, of the Transatlantic Agency, writes in an email to Q&Q about her sadness at the loss of Harrison, and her admiration for the author’s debut novel:

ASA Harrison was my first client, nine years ago now, and happily also a dear family friend. Friends with my mother, Susan Swan, ASA knew me since I was a kid and she spoke at my wedding. I loved her and I will dearly miss her.

ASA worked for a decade on her fiction and her fabulous debut novel The Silent Wife is the brilliant culmination of her hard work and exceptional talent as a writer. When I think of ASA the author, I think about her care and precision and persistence with the craft. I’m heartbroken she doesn’t get to participate in her book’s international launch this June and July but I’m comforted by the fact that she saw the starred Publishers Weekly review and all the rave advance praise from her peers and the amazing international rights sales to date (seven countries and counting!). She is a true publishing success story and she deserves every inch of it.

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Poet, editor Kildare Dobbs dead at age 89

The National Post is reporting that Kildare Dobbs, a fixture on the CanLit scene since the 1950s, died today in Toronto.

Born in India and educated in Ireland, Dobbs came to Canada in 1952, and joined the Macmillan Company of Canada as editor the following year. While at Macmillan, Dobbs worked with writers such as Sinclair Ross, Morley Callaghan, and Adele Wiseman, whom he is credited with discovering. In The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada, author Ruth Panofsky claims that Dobbs “was among Canada’s first professional editors.”

A poet and essayist, Dobbs won a 1962 Governor General’s Literary Award for his memoir, Running to Paradise. He was the co-founder of the Tamarack Review and wrote for the Star Weekly and Saturday Night; he also served as the managing editor of the latter publication.

Canada’s Governor General David Johnston went to Dobbs’s Toronto home earlier this year to present the author, who was suffering from ill health and thus unable to travel, with the Order of Canada for his lengthy and influential contribution to Canadian writing.

The National Post quotes an email from poet Richard Greene, who says, “He was, I think, the last great voice of a generation of Canadian writers that now falls silent.”

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Author, playwright, essayist Gore Vidal dies at 86

“Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won’t be.” It would have been interesting to hear what Gore Vidal had to say about the eventual winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, but sadly for those of us who appreciated his acerbic wit and apparent willingness to enter any argument, no matter how contentious, the famously witty and erudite author has died of complications from pneumonia.

Vidal was the author of the bestselling novels Myra Breckenridge, Lincoln, and Burr, among many others. His memoir Palimpsest appeared in 1995, and his selected essays were collected in the mammoth 1993 volume United States, which won its author the National Book Award.

The CBC website has an Associated Press obituary that refers to Vidal – along with contemporaries Norman Mailer (whom Vidal once suggested shared views on women that were similar to those of Charles Manson) and Truman Capote – as the last of a generation of celebrity authors who were household names even to those who hadn’t read them. From the AP:

[H]e was widely admired as an independent thinker — in the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken — about literature, culture, politics and, as he liked to call it, “the birds and the bees.” He picked apart politicians, living and dead; mocked religion and prudery; opposed wars from Vietnam to Iraq and insulted his peers like no other, once observing that the three saddest words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates.” (The happiest words: “I told you so.”)

Vidal was also famous for saying, “Never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television,” advice he heeded himself (at least its second half). From The New York Times:

Mr. Vidal was an occasional actor, appearing, for example, in animated form on The Simpsons and Family Guy, in the movie version of his own play The Best Man, and in the Tim Robbins movie Bob Roberts, in which he played an aging, epicene version of himself. He was a more than occasional guest on TV talk shows, where his poise, wit, looks and charm made him such a regular that Johnny Carson offered him a spot as a guest host of The Tonight Show.

Television was a natural medium for Mr. Vidal, who in person was often as cool and detached as he was in his prose. “Gore is a man without an unconscious,” his friend the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said. Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

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Adrienne Rich: 1929-2012

One week after the death of Canadian poet Jay Macpherson, the Los Angeles Times is reporting the death of yet another important and influential poet. Adrienne Rich, the American writer, feminist, and essayist, is dead at age 82.

From the LA Times’ book blog, Jacket Copy:

The recipient of such literary awards as the Yale Young Poets prize, the National Book Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the Dorothea Tanning Award given by the Academy of American Poets, Rich died Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz of complications from long-term rheumatoid arthritis, said a son, Pablo Conrad.

She came of age during the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s and was best known as an advocate of women’s rights, which she wrote about in both her poetry and prose. But she also wrote passionate antiwar poetry and took up the causes of the marginalized and underprivileged.

Rich won the 1974 National Book Award for her collection Diving Into the Wreck, an award she accepted “on behalf of all women.” In 1997, Rich turned down the National Medal for the Arts in protest over the Clinton administration’s policies. “I am not against government in general,” Rich told The New York Times at the time, “but I am against a government where so much power is concentrated in so few hands.”

Cary Nelson, editor of the Oxford University Press’ Anthology of Modern American Poetry, called Rich “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.”

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Jay Macpherson: 1931-2012

One of Canada’s finest – and arguably most underappreciated – poets has died. Jay Macpherson, a professor at the University of Toronto who won the Governor General’s Literary Award for her 1957 collection, The Boatman, died suddenly last Wednesday. A short obituary in the Toronto Star makes reference to a “long-undetected illness,” but a post by James Reaney on the London Free Press blog indicates that Macpherson had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

Macpherson was one of the poets included in the recent U.K. anthology Modern Canadian Poets: An Anthology of Poems in English, edited by Evan Jones and Todd Swift. From their introduction:

Jean Jay Macpherson was born in London, England, in 1931 and emigrated to Newfoundland with her family in 1940. She was educated at Carleton University, McGill University, and the University of Toronto, and taught at Victoria College, University of Toronto from 1957 to 1996. She began publishing her poems in 1949, at the age of eighteen, and her first pamphlet, Nineteen Poems, was published by Robert Graves’s Seizin Press in 1952.

Macpherson was friends with Northrop Frye, a colleague at Victoria College and a major influence on her poetry (The Boatman was dedicated to Northrop and Helen Frye), which found inspiration in Frye’s mythopoetic approach to literature. Her last full-length work of poetry, Poems Twice Told: The Boatman & Welcoming Disaster, appeared in 1981.

From “Ordinary People in the Last Days”:

My mother was taken up to heaven in a pink cloud.
She was talking to a friend on the telephone
When we saw her depart through the ceiling
Still murmuring about bridge.

My father prophesied.
He looked out from behind his newspaper
And said, “Johnny-Boy will win the Derby.”
The odds against were fifteen to one, and he won.

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Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Critic, gadfly, supporter of the Iraq war, misogynist, atheist. Christopher Hitchens was all these things. He was also one of the most erudite and plain-spoken writers of his day, possessed of intelligence, wit, and interests that were, in the secular sense of the word, catholic.

Hitchens died last night after a protracted battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62.

The man himself would, perhaps, cavil with the term “battle” to describe his ailment. In one of a series of pieces he wrote for Vanity Fair magazine describing, in typically direct, often painful detail, his daily struggles with the disease that was killing him, he referred to the oft-repeated term as “one of the most appealing clichés in our language”:

You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality.

Once lionized by progressives, Hitchens’s views fell increasingly out of favour in the years following 9/11, especially concerning his support for the unpopular war the U.S. and its “coalition of the willing” launched against Iraq in 2003. From the Observer:

His advocacy for the Iraq war was only the latest of Hitchens’s positions that many on the left found uncomfortable, and led to a chill in his relations with Gore Vidal, who had once nominated him a “successor, an inheritor, a dauphin or delphino.” But Hitchens’s opposition to what he called “fascism with an Islamic face” began long before 9/11, with the fatwa on his friend Salman Rushdie, imposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Hitchens accused of “using religion to mount a contract killing,” after the publication of The Satanic Verses.

He was also excoriated in many circles for a 2007 article in Vanity Fair entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” which prompted outraged, and not unfounded, cries of misogyny. That essay is included in his 2011 collection, Arguably, which is one of the books in the inaugural season of McClelland & Stewart’s non-fiction imprint, Signal. Writing on Random House’s Book Lounge blog, M&S president and publisher Doug Pepper says:

Christopher dealt with his illness as he did his life leading up to it: with wit, insight, incredible intellectual productivity, and extreme courage. We are all terribly saddened by his passing – his was an incredible life cut short and we send his family our heart-felt regrets and sympathy. We are honoured to be his publishers, and in that role to have brought and continue to bring his work to Canadian readers. He will be missed but his great and inspiring legacy will live on.

Among the many tributes pouring in is one from Graydon Carter, the longtime editor of Vanity Fair, where Hitchens served as contributing editor and where much of his recent writing appeared:

He was a man of insatiable appetites – for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation. That he had an output to equal what he took in was the miracle in the man. You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, essays, articles, and books he produced over the past four decades. He wrote often – constantly, in fact, and right up to the end – and he wrote fast; frequently without the benefit of a second draft or even corrections.

Indeed, Hitchens went out as he likely would have wanted to: writing. As recently as this month, he published an essay about his cancer treatments interrogating, with clarity and an utter lack of sentimentality, Nietzsche’s famous bromide that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger:

I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

These are progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? Just as I was beginning to reflect along these lines, I came across an article on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. We now know, from dearly bought experience, much more about this malady than we used to. Apparently, one of the symptoms by which it is made known is that a tough veteran will say, seeking to make light of his experience, that “what didn’t kill me made me stronger.” This is one of the manifestations that “denial” takes.

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Henk Harren, bookseller, 1944 – 2011

Henk Harren, owner of Windsor’s The Book Mark, has died of a heart attack. He was 67.

Harren, a native of Holland, came to Canada at 18 to escape the military draft. He opened his downtown bookshop in 1973 and was at the helm until financial pressures forced its closure in 2007. From The Windsor Star:

After studying business at the University of Windsor and getting married, [Harren's daughter, Pauline] Pare said Harren in 1973 began what he knew since age five would be his eventual career — a bookstore proprietor.

[...]

After a long day of selling books, Harren liked to curl up at home in his green-vinyl easy chair, with his wooden pipe and a favourite read. “It was like a scene out of an old illustration,” said Pare.

Being the owner of a small independent bookstore certainly wasn’t about making money, but Pare said people wandering in off the street in need of a few dollars would find a generous businessman. The Book Mark was definitely a browser’s delight, with thousands of titles stacked in apparent randomness.

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Douglas Lochhead, 1922-2011

Douglas Lochhead, the poet laureate of Sackville, New Brunswick, died Tuesday in a Westmorland-area nursing home. He was 88.

Lochhead was named the first-ever lifetime poet laureate for the town in 2002. From Lochhead’s obituary at Sackville’s official website:

Sackville is blessed to have had Douglas Lochhead as a resident, poet and friend. One of his works can be read in downtown Sackville. [Thirty-one] verses of “High Marsh Road” are displayed on panels on the town’s utility poles from the corner of Bridge and Main Street and continue toward the entrance of the Sackville Waterfowl Park.

In recognition of his work in letters, the poet and scholar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1976, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry in 1981, and won the 2005 Carlo Betocchi International Poetry Prize and the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence in English-language Literary Arts. His final poetry collection, Looking Into Trees, was published in 2009 by Sybertooth.

Long before his first published book of poetry, Lochhead served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War. He also led a long and varied career in libraries, working his way through Victoria College (now University of Victoria), Cornell University, Dalhousie University, York University, and University of Toronto, and as a professor at York, U of T, and Mount Allison University, where he was the director of Canadian Studies. At the time of his retirement in 1990, Lochhead was writer-in-residence at Mount Allison.

A visitation will be held March 18th from 7-9 p.m. at Jones Funeral Home in Sackville and the funeral service will be March 19th at the Mount Allison University Chapel at 2 p.m., followed by a reception the university’s Owens Art Gallery.

Notes of condolence can be sent through the Jones Funeral Home.

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