by Max Brantley
A reader brought news on the open thread last night of the death of Fayetteville author Donald Harington. He was 73 and had been ill for some time.
A spokesman for Moore's Funeral Chapel in Fayetteville confirms Harington's death over the weekend. Moore's will be handling funeral arrangements.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History called him America's "greatest unknown writer."
His wife, Kim, has sent friends the following note:
My sweet husband passed away at nearly midnight on Nov. 7.
This is all I can say now.
UPDATE: A UA announcement of the retired faculty member's death, on the jump, notes a memorial service Tuesday in Fayetteville.
UA NEWS RELEASE
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Donald Douglas Harington, a distinguished professor emeritus of art, novelist and alumnus of the University of Arkansas, died at midnight Nov. 7, 2009. He was 73.
Lauded for his novels, Harington taught art history at the university, starting as a visiting assistant professor in 1986, gaining tenure in 1991 and retiring in 2008.
“Don Harington, with his wryness and tenderness and complexity, his ability to engage students, and his obvious love for telling a story, made us all think more deeply about who we are and how we negotiate the ‘foibles’ of our world, as he once put it,” said G. David Gearhart, chancellor of the University of Arkansas. “Don brought the university great acclaim through his writing, but his love for others is what we will remember most about him. I and our campus community deeply mourn the loss of Don Harington and extend our sympathies to his wife, Kim.”
Harington died after a long battle with cancer. A visitation will be held at Moore’s Funeral Home from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10. A private funeral for family and close friends is planned, and a public memorial service at the university will be held at a later date.
Harington earned a Bachelor of Arts in art in 1956 and a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking in 1958 from the University of Arkansas. He was a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity and wrote for the student newspaper, The Arkansas Traveler.
Harington later earned a Master of Arts in art history at Boston University and pursued doctoral studies at Harvard, but left in 1960 to start teaching at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y., later becoming a professor at Windham College in Putney, Vt., where he chaired the art department. He left Windham in 1978 and served as a visiting professor at several universities: South Dakota State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Missouri-Rolla before returning to Arkansas.
At Arkansas, he taught a variety of art history and survey courses about American and European art.
“Don was a masterful teacher who inspired his students with his insights into art, his wonderful use of language and his incredible wit,” said Lynn Jacobs, chair of the art department. “He never let disabilities get in the way of conveying the joys of art history to his students.”
One of Harington’s favorite methods for encouraging class participation, which he started because of his hearing difficulty, was to pass out note cards at the beginning of each class so that students could write down questions and pass them back to Harington. Students received points for asking or answering questions.
“If by some miracle I got my hearing back, I would still use the note cards in class,” Harington said in a 1996 interview. “There are a lot of shy students who would otherwise hesitate to speak up.”
His first published novel, The Cherry Pit, was published by Random House in 1965. He described the novel as being a personification of the state’s capital, Little Rock. Cherry Pit was the runner-up for the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel.
His next novel, Lightning Bug, was the first set in the mythical Ozark village of Stay More. Harington dedicated the book to his friend and mentor William Styron, the Pulitzer-Prize winner best known for his novels Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. Styron provided Harington the use of his summer house while Harington was writing The Cherry Pit. They remained good friends until Styron’s death in 2006.
Some Other Place. The Right Place was published in 1972 and turned into a film called Return, released in 1986.
It was followed soon after by what many consider Harington’s seminal work of fiction, The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, in 1975. The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks told the history of Stay More, the Ozarks and Arkansas through the historical evolution of Stay More’s architecture, and the American Library Association listed The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks as one of the 10 best novels of the year.
Other honors soon came, including the Porter Prize for Literary Excellence in 1987, the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction in 2003 and the Oxford American Lifetime Award for Contributions to Southern Literature in 2006. In 1995, he was included in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of fewer than two dozen American writers culled from the post-World War II era. His name stood alongside such writers as Flannery O’Connor, James Agee, Sylvia Plath, Gore Vidal and Tom Wolfe. The next year, he was named to the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame.
Harington retired from teaching in 2008, but he kept writing, with his novel, Farther Along, coming out in 2008 and his last, Enduring, being issued in September by Toby Press.