The past months have seen the passing of many recognized figures in the literary and cultural community. Among them, we would like to acknowledge:
John O’Brien, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, which evolved into Dalkey Archive Press, one of the country’s foremost publishers of experimental literature and works in translation. A remembrance of him by Chad Post can be found at:
Born in Santurce, PR, Miguel Algarín, Jr., 79, moved to NYC at the age of nine. In the early 1970s, Algarín’s circle of fellow poets and artists outgrew his living room and, with Miguel Piñero and Pedro Pietri he co-founded the now-legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café, cradle of the poetry slam. For thirty years, finally as Professor Emeritus, Algarín taught Shakespeare, creative writing and U.S. ethnic literature at Rutgers University. His writing received numerous awards. (Eric Darton)
An anthropologist by training, David Rolfe Graeber, 59, was one of the initiators of the Occupy movement, and an unflagging advocate of consensus decision-making and prefigurative politics. Graeber taught at Yale from 1988 to 2005, but was dismissed by the university before he could receive tenure. Unable to find another position in the US, he opted for self-defined “academic exile,” teaching in the UK, finally at the London School of Economics. He will long be remembered for his – literally revolutionary – monograph of cultural ecomomics: Debt: The First 500 Years, Brooklyn, NY: Melleville House, 2011. (Eric Darton)
denise h bell, whose poetry appeared in Witty Partition 9, died unexpectedly on February 6, 2021. Born in 1941, denise was an educator and Vietnam veteran as well as a poet. In 2017 Tinderbox nominated her poem “Bitter Words” for online poem of the year. This past spring, bell was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. She was working on a collection of sonnets, psalms along myrtle, at the time of her passing. denise was an important member of my tribe in New York City, helping many people to “trudge the road to happy destiny.” With sassy remarks, smartass comebacks, solid feedback, and inspirational messages, she filled our lives with her presence. Friends are caring for her dog Lucy and cat Legs. (Jan Schmidt)
Sharon Kay Pennman, 75, author of numerous books of historical fiction set in medieval England and Wales. Her New York Times obituary is at:
In 1999, I had the opportunity to meet Walter Bernstein, 101, twice while I was interning at Watkins/Loomis Literary Agency and finishing my Master’s at the City College of New York. The first time, he came in and asked me a few questions while he was waiting for Gloria Loomis, the head of the agency and his wife, to go to lunch. The only way in which this was memorable was the fact that I had no idea who he was, other than a very nice person—only later did another agent tell me he had written the screenplays for the likes of Fail Safe (1964) and All the King’s Men (1949), and he was blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era (he later published Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist). The next time I met him, he asked about the Master’s and I asked him what it had been like not being credited for the first couple films he worked on. This led me to pick up his collection of articles Keep Your Head Down, which I found had the same open voice. He has a wonderful way of setting before the reader a number of conflicting experiences and letting you decide how you feel about them, such as in this 2017 piece for Tablet Magazine about his time in Palestine during World War II, in which he notes his extreme discomfort with Hasidim even as he realizes they’d be sharing a boxcar elsewhere, and relates a discussion in which the founder of the Palestine Post says almost off-handedly that the Arabs who have lived in Jaffa ‘will have to go’ when the democratic Jewish state is formed. We need more disarmingly honest voices like Bernstein's now more than ever. (Hardy Griffin)
Reading the news of Chick Corea’s passing, 79, I remembered wistfully how much I miss music—not easy listening, musak slithering out of some bourgeoise sound system, but studied, serious, complicated, playful, compelling MUSIC. I have a dim memory of twirling the radio dials, —when one did that sort of thing—driving from somewhere to somewhere else, looking for some decent jazz at a time when I was out of range, of WBGO Newark, a consumate jazz station in the New York area. Some fellow named “Chick,” saved my day--Chick Corea. Corea studied at Juillard School of Music in New York City, but as a bebopist cum fusion artist, played with Miles Davis, with Mongo Santamaria.... He wrote, in an idiom rooted in improvisation, and as not all jazz artists did—he wrote music as well. Son of Italian immigrants who grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, directly across the Mystic River from Boston. He was most lauded for his piano, as a fresh faced young’un playing with the greats to the point where some of his originals have since joined the ranks of jazz standards. Controversially he was a scientologist, though it appeared to have interfered with neither his warmth nor his music. (Bronwyn Mills)
And, ah, the music!
Further Links: Mozart concerto #10 in E-flat major for two pianos With Keith Jarrett
Wherein he makes an interesting statement, as later heard, about improvisation
Another version of “Spain” with Bobby McFarrin
Fusion with Herbie Hancock, et al.
Full concert (52 min.) with a masterful percussion solo from 94-year-old Roy Haynes
Our next issue of Witty Partition, forthcoming in July, will feature Eric Darton’s paired ¡VIVA! for writers Daphne Athas and Randall Kenan both of whom died this past summer. Athas, 97, was a novelist, grammarian, and chronicler of Chapel Hill, NC, where she taught for many years. Kenan, 57, a fiction writer, biographer and teacher, centered his stories on the invented town of Tims Creek, NC. He studied with, and befriended Athas in the early 1980s.