May 19, 2008
A great man, wonderful writer, unparalleled teacher, and all-around force of nature passed away last week: Oakley Hall, founder of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and former director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program at U.C. Irvine (which produced such writers as Richard Ford, Michael Chabon, and Aimee Bender).
I benefited from the writers conference that the Community puts on each year in Squaw Valley, as did Amy Tan, Michael Chabon (both of whom I met then when we were all aspiring novelists), Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, and many many others. I also learned a great deal from Oakley's lectures and his personal counsel on writing and the writing life, and from his simple joy of writing and his personal humility, integrity, and intelligence.
As I wrote to his daughter, Brett Hall Jones:
I feel like I need to grieve three timesonce for the flesh-and-blood man I knew and whom I enjoyed talking with so much; a second time for the presence I considered so essential to literary life out here; a third time for the writer, whose work affected and influenced and simply amazed so many of us. And that seems barely to scratch the surface. He was kind and querulous, bold and humble, wise and wily. I considered him one of the most formidable men I have ever known, and am grateful I had the chance to benefit from his wisdom, his humor and his generosity. He will be missed far more than any of us can imagine. American letters and life itself for so many of us will never be the same.For the New York Times obituary, go here.
For a more personal and heartfelt appreciation by Oscar Villalon, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, go here.
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