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Mourning the Loss of Curtis Harnack

- It is with great sadness that we note the passing on July 5, 2013 of former Yaddo Executive Director Curtis Harnack.

Born in Le Mars, Iowa, Curt wrote three novels on life in rural, small-town Iowa: The Work of an Ancient Hand, Love and Be Silent, and Limits of the Land. His titles We Have All Gone Away and The Attic: A Memoir are widely acclaimed non-fiction accounts of his Iowa childhood. We Have All Gone Away has been continuously in print for three decades. He also authored Under My Wings Everything Prospers, a collection of six short stories and a novella, and two nonfiction works – Persian Lions, Persian Lambs, a description of the year he spent teaching in Tabriz, Iran, as a Fulbright professor of American Literature, and Gentlemen on the Prairie, which relates the history of a colony of wealthy British settlers who attempted to recreate Victorian England on the Midwestern prairie.
 

Curt graduated from and was also an English instructor at Grinnell College and received his M.A. from Columbia. His first adult job was at the United Nations Secretariat as a collator of documents, 1951-1952. He also was an instructor and visiting lecturer with the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was on the literature faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, where he co-founded the American Studies program. With Paul Engle he co-edited the O. Henry Collection, Prize Stories 1958 and 1959. He served as president of the School of American Ballet from 1992 to 1997. In 1979 Curt toured Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania under the auspices of the U.S. State Department to lecture on American literature and he traveled to China in 1986 on a U.S./China Arts Exchange program. He lived for periods in England, France, Italy, and Iran.

In 1971, Curt was appointed executive director of Yaddo, succeeding the venerable Elizabeth Ames, who had welcomed Yaddo’s first artist guests in 1926 and remained in the position for nearly 50 years. However, Curt was well
acquainted with Yaddo before assuming the job of executive director, having been a Yaddo guest artist seven times between 1957 and 1970. Curt retired from Yaddo in 1987 and lived in New York City and upstate New York, and continued for some time to own part of his family farm in Iowa. He and his late wife, fellow Yaddo writer Hortense Calisher, were married for 50 years at the time of her death in 2009. Curt returned to Yaddo as a guest artist in 2010.