William H. Gass, one of the nation’s most esteemed writers of literature and criticism, died Wednesday (Dec. 6, 2017) at his home in University City. He was 93.
“Bill was a master writer, thinker, inspirer and human being,” said Victoria Wilson, his editor at Knopf, said. “His writing was important and daring.”
Known for his love of language, Mr. Gass influenced not only writers but also hundreds of students as a professor of philosophy for 30 years at Washington University.
During his university years (1969-99), Mr. Gass was part of the lively literary circle that included novelist Stanley Elkin and poets Howard Nemerov and Mona van Duyn. In 1990, Mr. Gass founded the International Writers Center at Washington University, which brought prominent writers from around the world to Missouri.
His first novel, “Omenstetter’s Luck,” was published in 1966 and is now considered a classic of American literature. Despite his novels’ long gestation periods (his “The Tunnel” was in the works for 26 years), Mr. Gass was always working and publishing short stories, essays and criticism. Three of his books of essays won awards from the National Book Critics Circle.
He won the 1997 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2000 PEN/Nabokov Award and the PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007 he received the St. Louis Literary Award.
His last novel, “Middle C,” was published in 2013 when Mr. Gass was 88. He said at the time that he had several projects in the works, including a book about Baroque prose writers (Baroque writing was something he was accused of himself, he said). A collection of essays, “Life Sentences,” was published in 2012 and a book of stories and novellas, “Eyes,” in 2015.
Mr. Gass’ publisher at Knopf said “The William Gass Reader,” including essays, stories, criticism and more, is scheduled to come out in June.
His work was often called post-modern and considered by many to be difficult works, but brilliant.
In 2013, he said that magazine editors would reject his stories, telling him that they didn’t “understand” them.
Mr. Gass is believed to be the first to use the term “metafiction” to refer to techniques in fiction that depart, self-consciously, from traditional narrative.
“I don’t have a whole lot of patience with writers repeating what everybody else does,” he once said.
Mr. Gass was born in Fargo, N.D., in 1924, and grew up in Warren, Ohio. He came to St. Louis in the ’60s and at his death lived in the Parkview area with his wife, Mary; they are parents of two daughters.
Funeral arrangements were pending.