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Harnack, Curtis



  • Existence: 1927-2013


Curtis Arthur Harnack was born on June 27, 1927, in Le Mars, Iowa, son of Henry and Caroline (Lang) Harnack. Raised on a farm near Le Mars in Remsen, Iowa, Harnack grew up near a unique American town. Home to one of the first golf courses in the Midwest and probably the first polo field in America, Le Mars was a place where, until the 1930s, cricket ruled over baseball. Settled by young British aristocrats in the 1870s-1880s, this northwest Iowa town witnessed the clash and sometimes compromise of upper class British ideals and middle American values. (Harnack in 1985 wrote a history examining this mix of cultures in late nineteenth-century Le Mars called Gentlemen on the Prairie.) Small town Midwestern life would be a dominant theme in Harnack's fiction. Harnack from childhood wanted to be a writer. A graduate of Le Mars High School, he took his B.A. from Grinnell College in 1949. Harnack then headed to New York and earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1951. He returned to Grinnell, teaching English from 1952-1956, and then moved on to the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, serving as an instructor in 1957-1958. Out of a teaching stint as Fulbright professor of American literature at the University of Tabriz in Iran came his 1965 memoir, Persian Lions, Persian Lambs: An American's Odyssey in Iran. Harnack returned to Iowa City in 1959--the same year he married the writer, Hortense Calisher--as a visiting lecturer in the Writer's Workshop before joining the literature faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. There he remained for the next eleven years. In 1971, Harnack left Sarah Lawrence College and became executive director of Yaddo, a foundation and retreat for artists and writers in Saratoga Springs, New York. Yaddo since its opening in 1926 has invited to stay some of the premier writers in America. Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, John Cheever, Philip Roth, William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, and Flannery O'Connor--among many others--have all stayed and written major works at Yaddo. Harnack in his career has written or edited nine books, many of which are set in the Midwest. Although he firmly resists the tag of Iowa author, he nevertheless said in 1985 that through his writing readers might find in Iowa something beautiful and rare and very special if you know how to look at it (Des Moines Register, 11/11/85). He has returned many times throughout his successful writing career to visit friends and family in northwest Iowa. Harnack was a 1962 winner of a Guggenheim fellowship in creative writing and a 1987 recipient of a Champion of the Arts Award from the New York City Foundation for the Arts. Curtis Harnack died at his home in Manhattan on July 5, 2013.

Author: Jacque Roethler
New York Times for his obituary. July 18, 2013.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Curtis Harnack Papers

 Collection — Box 19
Identifier: MsC0621

Assistant Editor (with Paul Engle) Prize Stories 1958-1959. Author of a memoir, We Have All Gone Away (1973), and other books. President of Yaddo, 1981-1987; 1992-1997 President of the School of American Ballet.

Dates: 1927 -; Majority of material found within 1960-1980