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Remembering Alison Lurie: In her words

We mourn the passing of Alison Lurie, Pulitzer-winning novelist and past New York State Author (2012-2014). She died Thursday, December 3, in Ithaca.

Alison Lurie in 2003 (Getty Images)
Alison Lurie in 2003 (Getty Images)

Lurie received the Pulitzer Prize for her 1984 novel, Foreign Affairs, the story of two American scholars and their separate adventures during a semester abroad in London. Writing in the BBC magazine, The Listener, Gabriele Annan said that the novel’s construction “is so neat, so ingenious and satisfying, with no loose

ends anywhere, that you barely notice its two stories operating on different levels of truth and entertainment.” The book was adapted as a NBC television movie starring Joanne Woodward and Brian Dennehy.

In the mid-1960s, Lurie received fellowships to work on her writing at the Yaddo artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, a setting later fictionalized to comic effect in her fifth novel, Real People (1969). The London Times reviewer called the book, “Dazzlingly comic. . . . a superb piece of ironic portraiture.”

From The Washington Post:

Alison Lurie, Pulitzer-winning novelist of mordant wit and boundless empathy, dies at 94

Alison Lurie, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who blended mordant wit and boundless empathy to chronicle the lives of women searching for self-knowledge and self-fulfillment while going about the business of everyday life, died Dec. 3 at a hospice facility in Ithaca, N.Y. She was 94.

The death was confirmed by her husband, Edward Hower. He did not cite a specific cause.

In addition to writing 11 works of fiction, Ms. Lurie was an essayist and a scholar of children’s literature who taught at Cornell University for years. But she was best known for her comedies of manners — many of them set at the fictional Corinth University — about well-educated women who have plunged into a marriage or career that fails, sometimes woefully, to live up to expectations.

Ms. Lurie mastered the brisk and wry detachment often associated with Jane Austen, whose books were similarly concerned with social mores and relationships between the sexes. In her books, Ms. Lurie skewered outwardly utopian campus life and seemingly orderly marriages.

“She’s satirical, but she’s got compassion,” said Judith Newman, emeritus professor of American studies at the University of Nottingham in England and author of a critical study of Ms. Lurie’s work. “You like her characters, and you watch them and think, ‘Oh, don’t do that, you silly fool.’ ” Read more.

From the NYS Writers Institute Archives

Alison Lurie was a two-time guest of The Book Show. Her first event was an interview with host and Writers Institute Director Tom Smith in 1989. Read transcript. She returned for an interview with Douglas Glover in 1995. Read transcript.

From the NYS Writers Institute's YouTube channel

The video interviews were recorded in 2012 and 2014, the two-year period during which Alison Lurie served as New York State Author.

In a proclamation from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 announcing the State Poet Marie Howe and State Author honorees, she was praised by the Governor and Writers Institute Executive Director and past Pulitzer Prize winner William Kennedy. "Marie and Alison represent the rich talent and diversity that New York has to offer," Governor Cuomo said. "Both of them have inspired New Yorkers all across the state, and their works are major assets to us all. They are truly deserving of this honor, and hopefully their great work will now reach a new and even wider audience."

Kennedy said, "Alison Lurie is a wise and masterful teller of tales that often center on marital strife, domestic disorder, and academic absurdity, comedies of manners of our time but with a deeply human strain. She is a superior prose stylist with a wickedly satirical talent."


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