Cheltenham High School Hall of Fame

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Laurie  Colwin

class of 1962
inducted in 1999

Laurie Colwin

Author and Columnist

Laurie Colwin was a popular author of novels and short stories. Before her untimely death in October 1992, Colwin garnered a large following with her sparkling tales of love and family in the upper middle class.

Colwin served as editor of
Cheltenham's literary magazine The Panther before graduating in 1962. She attended Bard College, the Sorbonne in Paris, the New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. Beginning in 1965, Colwin worked for a number of years in publishing. Her first employment in the field was with Sanford Greenberger International Publishers, a firm which she would later remember with great affection. She went on to serve on the editorial staffs of many leading publishers, including Putnam, Pantheon Books, Viking Press, and E.P. Dutton. During this period she edited and translated works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Colwin sold her first short story to The New Yorker in 1969. She would later see her stories published in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Redbook, Mademoiselle, and Harper's. Some of the finest of these early short stories were collected in Passion and Affect (1974). Her first novel, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, was published in 1975.

In 1977, Colwin ended her career in publishing to devote herself entirely to writing. She soon produced her second novel, Happy All the Time (1978) which was well received by critics and readers alike. John Romano wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "her book has the elegance called Mozartian -- pretty themes, memorable melodies."

The publication of the short story collection The Lone Pilgrim (1981) and the novel Family Happiness (1982) brought Colwin national acclaim. Critics praised her clear prose and sparkling wit. Readers fell in love with her wonderful, lifelike characters: witty men and women of the upper middle class who are perpetually falling in and out of love in the most entertaining ways.

She continued her successful career with her short story collection Another Marvelous Thing (1986) and her fourth novel, Goodbye Without Leaving (1990). She was honored with the prestigious O Henry Award for short fiction, and she was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1987.

Food held an important place in Colwin's life and career. A talented chef, Colwin cooked for protesters during the 1968 campus uprisings at
Columbia University and later volunteered as a cook at homeless shelters in New York. Her fiction often explored the fascinating connections between people, food, and love. For many years she was a food columnist for Gourmet magazine, publishing many of her columns and essays in the 1988 book Home Cooking.

In October 1992, Colwin died in her home in
Manhattan at the age of 48, survived by her husband Juris Jurjevics and her daughter Rosa. Colwin was honored the following February with a memorial tribute in New York City. Personal memories and readings from her work were shared by friends and colleagues including Anna Quindlen, Blair Brown, Tony Randall and C.H.S. classmate Willard Spiegelman, 62. Her last two books were published posthumously in 1993. More Home Cooking was a second book of food essays, and A Big Storm Knocked It Over her final novel.

Colwin has been compared to authors as diverse as John Updike, Danielle Steele, and Jane Austen. "Colwin writes with extraordinary authority in a cool, slangy, hard-edged style that delights the mind even as it touches the heart," wrote Jane Clapperton in Cosmopolitan. One reviewer praised "her elegant, delicately colored prose" while Newsweek's Walter Clemons remarked of Happy All the Time that the "successful depiction of happiness is rare enough to qualify Colwin's novel as daring experimental fiction." In a New York Times column published soon after Colwin's death, Anna Quindlen wrote, "Laurie Colwin was a splendid writer, her characters wrought with perfect pitch, her world view sharp and telling but neither dark nor mean."

Colwin said of herself: "I write first drafts by hand with a
Mont Blanc pen with real ink...I'm real old-fashioned." In an age when many serious writers concern themselves with despair and alienation, Laurie Colwin won the hearts of millions with her engaging and honest explorations of happiness, family, and love.