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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2004

Author Larry Brown dies at 53

Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004

Larry Brown

OXFORD, Miss. — Larry Brown, a firefighter turned author who wrote of the poor rural South and the consequences of life there, died Wednesday at his home in the Tula community near Oxford. He was 53.

Funeral arrangements were pending. Survivors include Brown’s wife, Mary Annie Brown, two sons, a daughter and his mother.

Brown’s publisher, Algonquin Books in North Carolina, said Brown died of a heart attack. Lafayette County Coroner Lonnie Weaver said the cause of Brown’s death would be determined after an autopsy. Weaver said Brown was dead when emergency medical crews arrived at his home shortly after 8 a.m.

Born July 9, 1951, in Oxford, Brown briefly attended the University of Mississippi and learned the craft of writing in large measure by avid reading.

Brown served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1970 to 1972. He worked as an Oxford firefighter from 1973 until 1990, when he retired to begin his full-time writing career.

“I’m just paralyzed — like most people when they lose a loved one they admire,” Oxford writer Barry Hannah told The Oxford Eagle in a telephone interview from San Marcos, Texas, where he is teaching.

Hannah said he had watched his friend’s growing success with pride, from the time his work first began appearing in magazines and journals in the mid-1980s to his most recent novel, The Rabbit Factory (2003).

“Everywhere I go, I brag about Larry Brown and what hard work and discipline brought to him as an artist,” Hannah said. “It’s close and deep and very sorrowful. But he is a marvelous inspiration to those who need toughness.”

Brown served as creative writing instructor at the University of Mississippi in spring 1998, filling in for longtime writer-in-residence Hannah, who had taken a leave of absence. UM Department of English chair Joe Urgo described Brown’s death as “a sudden and unexpected loss.”

“Larry Brown was among the very best contemporary writers in the United States, and another powerful literary voice to emerge from Oxford and Lafayette County,” Urgo said. “Although he had no formal affiliation with the Department of English, we receive inquiries about him and his work from readers around the world quite frequently.

“Mr. Brown’s passing abruptly ends a career that many readers had all reason to look forward to enjoying for years to come. Well, now, of course, we can re-read the books and come to know that Larry Brown will never really leave us.”

Brown’s first book was a collection of stories called Facing the Music, published in 1988, followed in 1989 by his first novel, Dirty Work, which was inspired in part by his father’s experiences in World War II.

“As a writer he had the advantage of growing up in a place where people knew each other deeply, and that showed in his work,” Oxford mayor and Square Books owner Richard Howorth said, recalling Brown as “a generous and loving person.”

Brown’s books included Big Bad Love (1990), which depicted marital malaise of varying degrees, and the novel Joe (1991), in which he teamed up the title character, a hard-drinking ex-convict who heads up a forest defoliation crew, with 15-year-old Gary Jones, the son of a truly evil no-count drunk migrant worker.

Big Bad Love caught the attention of actress Debra Winger and her husband, director Arliss Howard. The two produced and starred in a film adaptation of the same name in 2001.

In 2002, filmmaker Gary Hawkins created a documentary about the writer and his life entitled The Rough South of Larry Brown.

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