James Alan McPherson, prize-winning author, dead at 72


NEW YORK (AP) — James Alan McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection “Elbow Room” and a longtime faculty member at the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writers’ Workshop, has died.

McPherson died Wednesday at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City from complications of pneumonia, according to Iowa program secretary Deborah L. West. He was 72 and retired from Iowa in 2014.

A native of Savannah, Georgia and graduate of Harvard Law School who chose instead to become a writer, McPherson was best known for “Elbow Room,” candid and compassionate takes on race and the misunderstandings between black and white. Published in 1977, “Elbow Room” was praised by The New York Times for the “fine control of language and story,” ”depth in his characters” and “humane values” and made McPherson the first African-American to win the fiction Pulitzer.

His other works included the story collection “Hue and Cry” and the memoir “Crabcakes.” In 1981, McPherson was named a MacArthur fellow.

He taught at several schools, notably at Iowa, home to one of the country’s oldest and most elite creative writing programs. One of his former students, fiction writer Nathan Englander, tweeted Thursday that McPherson was a “great writer, a great thinker, & a generous teacher.

“We’ve lost a great voice of reason,” he wrote.

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