Reynolds Price, 1933-2011

February 3, 2011

The best-selling author Reynolds Price was originally appointed to a three-year teaching post at Duke University in 1958, a contract that had "no chance of being extended".

He died last month after 53 years at the institution, during which time he had risen to become James B. Duke professor of English.

Born in Macon, North Carolina on 1 February 1933, Professor Price studied as an undergraduate at Duke before crossing the Atlantic to attend Merton College, Oxford on a three-year Rhodes scholarship.

On returning to Duke, he was offered the contract: in 2008, he recalled the event as being "a little discouraging", but said his attitude at the time was: "Well, three years is three years."

His first novel, A Long and Happy Life (1962), won the William Faulkner Award for new novelists, and he went on to publish 39 more books, including novels, collections of essays and plays.

All of his fiction was set in his home state of North Carolina; Professor Price said of the decision that he was able to achieve "perfect pitch" when writing about it.

In 1984, he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour affecting his spinal cord. Although the tumour was successfully removed, the radiotherapy treatment he underwent to prevent the spread of the disease left him paralysed from the waist down. He went on to write a memoir about his survival, A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing (1994).

His achievements were recognised with an induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, an accolade given by the North Carolina Humanities Council.

Duke recognised his service to the university with its highest honour, the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, awarded in 1987. A professorship in creative writing in Professor Price's name was established at the institution in 2008.

Richard H. Brodhead, president of Duke, said: "With a poet's deep appreciation for language, Reynolds Price taught generations of students to understand and love literature. Reynolds was a part of the soul of Duke; he loved this university and always wanted to make it better. We can scarcely imagine Duke without Reynolds Price."

Despite ill health, Professor Price had been writing a follow-up to his 2009 memoir Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back, which covered his time at Oxford and his return to North Carolina.

He died on 20 January 2011 after suffering a heart attack.

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