Leonard Michaels, acclaimed writer and former professor, dies at age 70
BERKELEY – Leonard Michaels, a former professor of English literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and an acclaimed author, has died from complications of lymphoma at the age of 70.
Michaels was considered a master of the short story and was probably was best known for "The Men's Club," a 1981 novel about seven men who gathered at their psychiatrist's home to tell stories about their lives and loves. Set in the '70s, the book was seen by some as raising male consciousness, but criticized by others as misogynistic.
The National Book Critics Circle nominated "The Men's Club" as best novel of 1981. Michaels wrote the screenplay for a 1985 movie by the same name that was based on the book.
Michaels, born to Polish immigrant parents in New York City, said he spoke only Yiddish until he entered elementary school.
He attended New York City's High School of Music and Art and said he wanted to be a painter until he noticed so many people were much better at it than he was.
He earned a bachelor's degree in English and psychology from New York University in 1953. He pursued graduate work in English at the University of Michigan and earned his MA there in 1956. He attended UC Berkeley and Michigan after that, receiving his PhD in romantic poetry from the University of Michigan in 1967.
Michaels, who said his literary influences included Franz Kafka, Wallace Stevens and Byron, taught briefly at UC Davis before joining UC Berkeley's English department in 1969. He taught creative writing, romantic literature and literary criticism while at UC Berkeley.
He retired from teaching at UC Berkeley in 1994, but continued to write.
Michaels' "A Girl With a Monkey: New and Selected Stories" was labeled the best fiction title of 2000 by the Los Angeles Times. His 1992 novel "Sylvia" was about his own marriage and life in Manhattan in the turbulent '60s. During that period, his wife committed suicide at age 24.
Other books by Michaels include the short story collection, "Going Places," (1969) which was nominated for the National Book Award. He also wrote "Shuffle" (1990) and "I Would Have Saved Them If I Could," which was ranked by The New York Times Book Review staff as among the top six works of fiction in 1975.
He also edited three collections of essays and wrote reviews and essays for such publications as Granta, Vanity Fair, Antaeus, Threepenny Review, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books and Playboy.
Michaels lectured around the world on contemporary American literature and writing.
"He was one of the most important prose writers of 20th century America - a writer whose sentences were composed with the care of poetry, and whose voice came through clearly in both fiction and nonfiction," said Wendy Lesser, editor of The Threepenny Review, where Michaels was an advisor and contributor for more than 20 years.
"Lenny had a wonderful, hilarious, dark sense of humor and a great respect for serious things. He was irreplaceable," said Lesser, who first met Michaels when she was his student at UC Berkeley.
Michaels received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pushcart Prize and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work was translated into about 10 languages.
His "Time Out of Mind: The Diaries of Leonard Michaels 1961-1999" began as an effort to explore his troubled first marriage and continued to the last few years of his life.
In "Time Out of Mind," Michaels wrote: "Courage is continuing to perform your daily tasks, and being hopeful despite the odds, not inflicting your fears on others, and remaining sensitive to their needs and expectations, and also not supposing, because you're dying, nothing matters any more."
Michaels and his wife, Katharine Ogden Michaels, had lived in Italy for the past seven years.
When Michaels was hospitalized in Italy in early April for tests related to complaints of stomach problems, he returned to the San Francisco Bay area. He was hospitalized at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley when he died on Saturday, May 10.
Survivors include his wife, Katharine; sons, Ethan of Alameda and Jesse of Berkeley; daughter, Louisa of Berkeley; mother, Anna of the New York metropolitan area; sister, Carol Foresta, also of the New York metropolitan area; and brother, David of Storrs, Conn.
Funeral services are set for 2 p.m. today (Tuesday, May 13) at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette. The family asks that donations in Michaels' name be sent to The Threepenny Review, P.O. Box 9131, Berkeley, CA, 94709.