Reynolds Price, the celebrated writer of fiction, poetry, memoirs, essays and plays who turned a three-year teaching appointment into more than 50 years on the faculty at Duke University, died Thursday afternoon. He was 77.
UPDATE: With the news that Duke professor Reynolds Price passed away in Durham yesterday, UNC-TV will rebroadcast the episode of North Carolina Bookwatch in which host D.G. Martin chatted with Professor Price about his life and work. North Carolina Bookwatch can be seen this Sunday, January 23 at 5 PM.
As reported on NPR’s All Things Considered last night, Price was not just professor or an author. In his own words, “I’ve written everything from novels to television commercials. I once wrote the text for a Calvin Klein commercial, a confession I only now made public.”
That quote was from a commentary Reynolds Price wrote for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, which is broadcast locally on WUNC-FM. Price was a contributor from 1996 until 2002.
As a result of a malignant spinal tumor and the surgeries and radiation he underwent Price was paraplegic for the last 25 years of his life. But he was able to overcome his adversity.
Amanda Lamb, a former student and a published writer and television personality today, says even when unable to teach because of health reasons, he would call in to do lectures for his Duke classes. Lamb calls him “a great man and a great author.”
He also turned his experience with battling cancern and the resulting paralysis into the basis of a book he published in 2003.
A 2006 article in The News & Observer of Raleigh, noted that Price had pondered and accepted the truths articulated in the Book of Job: that God’s ways are often beyond understanding or finding out.
“The fact that my legs were subsequently paralyzed by 25 X-ray treatments … was a mere complexity in the ongoing narrative which God intended me to make of my life,” he said. Price’s account of cancer survival is captured in his 2003 book, A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing.
While fellow Duke alumni who attended school with Price in the 50s recall him as a flamboyant student on a motorcycle, he became known locally and on Duke campus for his “fiery speech” attacking the lack of intellectual commitment by students in 1992.
The NY Times article published today says that “few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage as Mr. Price, who published his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, in 1962 to near-universal acclaim for its pungent Southern dialogue, highly wrought prose style and vivid evocation of rural Southern life.”
Price published numerous books including the novel Kate Vaiden, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986. Price became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities from the North Carolina Humanities Council.
Price’s third volume of memoir, “Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back,” was published in the spring of 2009. The book explores six crucial years in Price’s life, from leaving home in 1955 to attend Oxford University to his return to North Carolina and the start of his career as a university teacher.
In 1987, Price received the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service at Duke, the university’s highest honor, and the Distinguished Alumni Award. A professorship in creative writing honoring Price was established at Duke in 2008.
According to Price’s wishes, there will be no public funeral. Duke University has not yet announced plans to honor Price.