Rediscover: Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield, "a protean and prolific journalist, novelist, screenwriter, critic and essayist who explored subjects as diverse as life in New York City in the 1950s, the American civil rights movement, the wounds that war inflicts on individuals and society, and, not least, his personal journey from religious faith to atheism and back again," died March 13 at age 91, the New York Times reported.

Wakefield, who published more than 20 books, found acclaim before he was 27 with the publication of Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem (1959). His next book, Revolt in the South (1962), explored resistance to the civil rights movement in the old Confederacy. In 1970, his first novel, Going All the Way, was nominated for a National Book Award, drawing praise from critics and major writers, including Gay Talese and Kurt Vonnegut. Wakefield's other novels include Starting Over (1973), Home Free (1977), Under the Apple Tree (1982), and Selling Out (1985).

In Returning: A Spiritual Journey (1988), he recounted using alcohol and drugs to fight off a "sense of blank, nameless pain in the pit of my very being." The next year, in an essay in the Times, he wrote that his way back to belief was marked by logic--he recalled a physicist asking, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"--as well as contemplation.

Wakefield lived his final years in Indianapolis, having moved back there in 2011 after living in Miami for 17 years as a writer in residence at Florida International University. He was still writing and at 90 published a biography for young adults, Kurt Vonnegut: The Making of a Writer.

His death was confirmed by Will Higgins, who from 2016 to 2017 hosted a public radio show with Wakefield, Uncle Dan's Story Hour, on which Wakefield told stories about his life and career from the Red Key Tavern, an old bar in Indianapolis, his hometown.

"What is incredible about Dan is the experiences he had in his writing life and the number of people he called a friend, from Kurt Vonnegut to James Baldwin," Ken Bennett, his attorney, told the Indianapolis Star. "All these literary giants, he associated with them. He's written a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, used as important reference tools for folks."

Asked to define his philosophy of life, Wakefield quoted Philo, the ancient philosopher of Alexandria, Egypt: "Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle." As for his life beyond writing, reading and reflecting, he said, "No golf, no horseshoes, no stamp-collecting, no hobbies.... No regrets."

In 1997, Going All the Way was adapted into a film starring Jeremy Davies, Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz. The novel is available in paperback from Indiana University Press.

Powered by: Xtenit