obituaries

RIP TweetDeck (2008-2023)

Yesterday afternoon I was messing around on TweetDeck when the screen refreshed and the dashboard was replaced by an invitation to subscribe to Twitter’s Premium service. TweetDeck, rebranded as “X Pro,” is now paywalled.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. Elon Musk announced last month that he was going to do this, but I had hoped that, as with his long-promised Mars colony, the deadline might get pushed back. I guess he needs the money.

The irony here is that TweetDeck is something I actually would have been willing to pay for, once upon a time. The ability to monitor multiple Twitter streams simultaneously is very useful, especially when I’ve got a new book out. But if I’m going to pay for something I’m used to getting for free, at a bare minimum I want it to work as well as it always has, and ideally the paid version would come with significant improvements. Instead TweetDeck, like Twitter generally, has gotten worse since Musk took over, and I see no reason to believe that that will change. It’s like being offered a chance to upgrade my cabin on the Hindenburg.

Oh well. It’s Musk’s site, he can do what he wants with it, and I remain morbidly fascinated by the ongoing apocalypse that was Twitter. But I will miss TweetDeck. RIP.

RIP TweetDeck (2008-2023) Read More »

Paul La Farge (1970-2023)

I am surprised and saddened to learn of the death of novelist Paul La Farge. He was the author, most recently, of The Night Ocean, which offers a fascinating fictional take on the real-life relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and his young fan and collaborator Robert H. Barlow.

Because of the Lovecraft connection, the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me to interview Paul when The Night Ocean was published in 2017. A month later, when he came to Seattle on book tour, we met up for coffee. In my all-too-brief interaction with him, he came across as a smart, thoughtful, and incredibly friendly guy. I was really looking forward to seeing what he’d write next.

You can read my interview with Paul here. And you should definitely check out The Night Ocean. As I write in the interview intro, it’s “one of those impossible-to-categorize books that seems to constitute its own genre.” My favorite kind, and a good legacy to leave behind.

Paul La Farge (1970-2023) Read More »

RIP James Turner

Yesterday I received the sad news that Dr. James Turner, the founding director of Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center, has died.

I had the good fortune to be Professor Turner’s student when I was at Cornell in the 1980s. He was a warm, wise, and engaging teacher who changed the way I thought about the world, and our classroom discussions would, a quarter century later, help inform the writing of Lovecraft Country.

Over the years, I’ve met other former students of Dr. Turner—like Victor LaValle, the author of The Ballad of Black Tom—and they all had the same impression I did. Everyone has a list of of teachers and mentors who made a real difference in their life, and if you were lucky enough to know James Turner, he was on that list. My sadness at his passing is tempered by the knowledge that this is a man who truly made good use of his time on earth.

Godspeed, Professor Turner. Thanks for the lessons.

RIP James Turner Read More »

James William Loewen (1942-2021)

Professor James W. Loewen, the author of Sundown Towns, has died at the age of 79.

I was introduced to Loewen’s work through his 1995 bestseller Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. But it was Sundown Towns, Loewen’s history of whites-only communities in America, that had the biggest personal impact on me, serving as both an inspiration and an important research source for Lovecraft Country. A new edition of Sundown Towns was released in 2018, and if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend checking it out.

You can read more about Professor Loewen’s life and work in his New York Times obituary.

James William Loewen (1942-2021) Read More »

Alison Lurie (1926-2020)

My old friend and mentor Professor Alison Lurie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Foreign Affairs and The War Between the Tates, has died at the age of 94.

I met Alison in my junior year at Cornell, when I took her creative writing class. I’d just started writing Fool on the Hill, the novel that would serve as my senior thesis in Honors English. Alison liked my work and encouraged me to send the finished manuscript to her agent, Melanie Jackson. Melanie liked the book too, and sold Fool on the Hill to Atlantic Monthly Press just six months after I graduated. Without Alison’s generosity, the arc of my writing career would have been very different—if it had happened at all.

It had been many years since I’d seen Alison in person, but we emailed from time to time, most recently in September when we exchanged happy birthdays (we were born just five days—and several decades—apart). I’m very glad I took the opportunity to say thank you to her one more time.

Godspeed, Alison.

Alison Lurie (1926-2020) Read More »

Summer in Lovecraft Country

Yes, I’m still alive. Busy writing, and nearing the halfway point of the new novel, at least in terms of word count—because of the modular nature of the story I’ve been jumping back and forth a lot as I figure out various plot points. This week I’m focused on a section called “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe,” in which one of my characters pokes around in an abandoned astronomical observatory that is neither abandoned nor (merely) an observatory; earlier this month I worked on “Abdullah’s Book,” in which the Prince Hall Freemasons try to keep an arcane text from falling into the wrong hands.

In other news:

* The Mirage is a finalist for the Sidewise Award for Best Long-Form Alternate History. The winner will be announced this Saturday. Wish me luck!

* I watched season one of Orange is the New Black, which is as good as you’ve heard. Also good: the first three seasons of Damages (some great performances and a really interesting story structure) and 42 (much better than I’d been expecting from the trailer).

* Wilton Barnhardt, the author of Emma Who Saved My Life and Gospel, two of my favorite novels, is back with his first new book in fifteen years. Aimee Bender has a new book out, too.

* A great-great-great-grandson of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian died last month at age 77. His Times obituary makes for interesting reading. Pitcairn Island, where he lived, is looking for new residents. But.

* “Due to the sheer size of the sloths, you must be at least 50″ tall and 80 lbs to participate in the ‘Sloth Immersion’ experience.”

Summer in Lovecraft Country Read More »

Mr. McCourt (1930-2009)

Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela’s Ashes, has died at the age of 78.

Like thousands of other people, I remember him as Mr. McCourt, the high-school creative-writing teacher who used to entertain me and my classmates with darkly funny stories about his childhood in Ireland. Most of what I learned from him I learned by example, watching him tell, and refine, those tales. I was glad that he eventually wrote them down, and totally unsurprised that he became famous once he did — but I’m fortunate that his fame came later, so that I was able to know him as a teacher first.

I last saw him in 2006, when he came to Seattle to give a lecture at Benaroya Hall. The audience that night was about a hundred times bigger than what you’d find in our classroom, but other than that it was just like fourth-period English at Stuyvesant: same old teacher, telling funny stories.

So long, Mr. McCourt. Thanks for the lessons.

(Photo with caption from the 1983 Stuyvesant yearbook.)

Mr. McCourt (1930-2009) Read More »

“Stradavari of stones” is dead at 57

Yesterday’s Times had an interesting obituary for Antonio Bianco, one of the world’s foremost diamond cutters:

For more than 30 years he worked in blissful anonymity in New York’s diamond district, cutting some of the largest, rarest and most valuable stones of his time — stones important enough to have their own names. The diamonds Mr. Bianco cut are owned by some of the world’s most prominent collectors, among them Hollywood film stars and crowned heads of state…

Most master cutters pass their entire careers handling diamonds no bigger than 20 to 50 carats — more or less the size of a quarter. For most cutters, a 100-carat stone is beyond contemplation.

Over his career, Mr. Bianco cut about half a dozen diamonds of 100 carats or more… Among them were the diamonds known as the “Dream” and the “Golden Star, ” both cushion-cut vivid yellow stones, and the “Flame,” a pear-shaped white diamond nearly the size of a man’s nose.

“Stradavari of stones” is dead at 57 Read More »