Notable Literary Deaths in 2020
An Incomplete List of the Writers, Editors, and Great
Literary Minds We Lost This Year
The year is at an end, and I think I speak for pretty much everyone when I say: good riddance. (While we don’t have any guarantee that 2021 will be an improvement, it seems like it would have to be.) Among the many unhappinesses of this year, we lost what seems like an unusually large number of members of the literary community, from poets to novelists to editors to critics to publishers to booksellers. To them, we say a last thank you, and goodbye. They will be missed.
Sylvia Jukes Morris, biographer of Clare Boothe Luce, died on January 5 at the age of 84.
Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of Prozac Nation, died on January 7 at the age of 52, from complications from breast cancer.
Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien, who managed his father’s literary estate and published his posthumous works, died on January 16 in Provence, France. He was 95.
Mary Higgins Clark, mega-bestseller and prolific Queen of Suspense, died on January 31 at the age of 92. She wrote right up until the end.
Literary critic George Steiner died on February 3 at the age of 90.
Poet Kamau Brathwaite, “one of the titans of post-colonial literature and the arts,” died on February 4 at the age of 89.
Alice Mayhew, massively successful editor who popularized the nonfiction political page turner, died on February 4 at the age of 87.
Charles Portis, the author of True Grit (with its perfect first paragraph), once described as America’s “least-known great writer,” died on February 17 at the age of 86.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Lisel Mueller, who wrote about fleeing from Nazi German, died on February 21 at the age of 96.
Clive Cussler, bestselling writer, founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, and real-life Hemingway hero, died on February 24. He was 88.
Grace Edwards, novelist and former director of the Harlem Writers Guild, died on February 25 at the age of 87.
Barbara Neely, the activist-turned-crime-writer who created iconic character Blanche White and inspired a generation of Black mystery writers, died on March 2 at the age of 78.
Richard Marek, who edited Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Robert Ludlum, and other heavy hitters, died on March 22 at the age of 86.
Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, “the bard of American theater,” died from coronavirus complications on March 24 at the age of 81.
Tomie dePaola, celebrated author and illustrator of over 270 books, including Strega Nona, died on March 30 at the age of 85.
Rubem Fonseca, one of Brazil’s most important writers, died on April 15 at the age of 94.
Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda, author of The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, died on April 16 after a six-week battle with Covid-19. He was 70.
Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist, “one of the world’s most underrated great writers,” died on April 25 at the age of 85.
Irish poet Eavan Boland, whose work inspired countless others, died on April 27. She was 75.
Swedish crime writer Maj Sjowall, whose works heralded the rise of Nordic Noir, died on April 29 at the age of 84.
Beat poet, playwright, and songwriter Michael McClure, who read at the famous Six Gallery reading, died on May 4 at the age of 87.
Carolyn Reidy, legendary publishing executive and head of Simon & Schuster, died on May 12 at the age of 71.
Harry Hoffman, who in the 80s made Waldenbooks the biggest bookstore in the US, died on May 20 at the age of 92.
Playwright Larry Kramer, who also fought furiously for AIDS research and against discrimination in healthcare, died on May 27 at the age of 84.
Black humorist Bruce Jay Friedman, who wrote novels and also the screenplay for Splash, died on June 3 at the age of 90.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of The Shadow of the Wind, the most successful Spanish novel after Don Quixote, died on June 19 at the age of 55.
Rudolfo Anaya, a groundbreaking figure in Chicano literature and the author of Bless Me, Ultima, died on June 28 at the age of 82.
Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, author of The Long Prospect, died on July 7 at the age of 92.
Brad Watson, a certified writer’s writer and the author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, died on July 8 at the age of 64.
Joanna Cole, who wrote the beloved Magic School Bus series, died on July 12 at the age of 75.
Shirley Ann Grau, who won a Pultizer Prize for her novel The Keepers of the House, died on August 3 at the age of 91.
Pete Hamill, celebrated chronicler of New York, died on August 5. He was 85.
Gail Sheehy, journalist and bestselling author of Passages, died on August 24 at the age of 83.
Randall Kenan, short story writer and novelist, died on August 28 at the age of 57. Three weeks later, his collection If I Had Two Wings was nominated for the National Book Award.
True crime writer Shanna Hogan, author of Picture Perfect, died in an accident on September 1. She was 37.
Anthropologist, activist, and social critic David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, died on September 2 at the age of 59.
Florence Howe, one of the founders of the Feminist Press, died on September 12 at the age of 91.
Poet Anne Stevenson, author of Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath, died on September 14 at the age of 87.
Stanley Crouch, jazz critic, playwright, novelist, public intellectual, celebrated—and controversial—essayist, died on September 16 at the age of 74.
Bestselling SFF writer Terry Goodkind, author of The Sword of Truth series, died on September 17 at the age of 72.
Winston Groom, who wrote Forrest Gump, died on September 17 at the age of 77.
British newspaperman and American publisher Harold Evans, the husband of editor Tina Brown, died on September 23 at the age of 92.
Irish poet Derek Mahon, who reminded us that everything was going to be all right, died on October 1 at the age of 78.
Ruth Klüger, author of Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, died on October 5 at the age of 88.
Diane Di Prima, who was once the most prominent female Beat Poet, but branched out over her long career, died on October 25th at the age of 86.
Celebrated editor Daniel Menaker, who shaped the literary landscape through his work at Random House and The New Yorker, died on October 26 at the age of 79.
Irish writer Julia O’Faolain, author of No Country for Young Men, died on October 27 at the age of 88.
Joan Bingham co-founder and executive editor of Grove Atlantic, died on October 31 at the age of 85.
Naomi Long Madgett, publisher, Detroit poet laureate, and “the godmother of African-American poetry,” died on November 4 at the age of 97.
George Cockcroft, who wrote cult classic The Dice Man under the pen name Luke Rhinehart, died on November 6 at the age of 87.
Israeli poet Natan Zach died on November 6 at the age of 89.
Writer, publisher, and indie bookseller Joan Drury died on November 9 at the age of 75.
British journalist Jan Morris, celebrated for her travel writing as well as her groundbreaking work chronicling her life as a transgender woman, died on November 20. She was 94.
Science fiction author and editor Ben Bova, once described as “the last of the great pulp writers,” died on November 29 at the age of 88.
Poet Miguel Algarín, who helped found the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, died on December 1 at the age of 79.
Alison Lurie, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Foreign Affairs, died on December 3 at the age of 94.
Anthony Veasna So, an emerging literary talent whose debut collection is due to be published next summer, died on December 8 at the age of 28.
Legendary spy novelist John le Carré, an “undisputed giant of English literature,” died on December 12. He was 89.