I just learned that the critic and novelist John Leonard has died.
He was a friend, the source of encouraging words at a particularly difficult time, when I was not hearing many of them. I tried to see him as often as possible, because John was a guy whose stories you wanted to hear, and so was glad to know he was writing his memoirs even as his health was going. We spent part of a morning talking over coffee in early 2007 -- after which I felt guilty, because that was when he would have had the energy to be writing.
He appeared on an NBCC panel at Book Expo that year, which our mutual friend David Glenn points out was recorded on video:
I ran into him in the hallway later. He looked run down, but was completely in his element. It was the last time I got to talk to him.
John indicated at some point that he read this blog, among others, and particularly enjoyed it whenever I wrote about Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He said it made him laugh out loud, and during one of our last visits I presented him with his very own copy of Chairman Bob's memoirs.
The NBCC gave him its lifetime achievement award -- here is John's acceptance speech. For the past five years, I have been telling anyone who would listen that it would be a good idea to reprint his first collection of pieces, This Pen for Hire. A few minutes ago, I went to the shelves and pulled down his books, and found that a couple of them were inscribed, which somehow makes the finality of this real in a way it is hard to describe.
UPDATE: Jane Ciabattari, the president of NBCC, has posted a tribute with a number of useful links.
My friend Emily Gordon posts her own farewell. I've submitted a comment to spell out one thing about John that is there between the lines.