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Novelist Donald Harington dies

By Evie Blad

This article was published November 9, 2009 at 9:01 a.m.

— Renowned Arkansas novelist Donald Harington died. He was 73.

Harington drew upon his boyhood summers in the rural Madison County community of Drakes Creek to create Stay More, a fictional Newton County town that formed the setting of all but one of his 15 novels, which blended culture, humor and mystical elements to form intertwined story lines praised by critics.

He died at late Saturday in Fayetteville. A private service is planned for family and close friends and a public memorial service is being planned by the University of Arkansas.

The author and art history professor, born and raised in Little Rock, attributed his grasp of rural Ozark life to losing most of his hearing with a case of meningococcal meningitis when he was just 12 years old. The experience sealed in his memory the Ozark accents of his childhood and forced him to more fully see the world around him.

He channeled the observations into vivid portrayals of Ozark life, through which he hoped readers would recognize pieces of themselves, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2000.

“I happen to write about hillbillies in Stay More, Ark., but my novels are not really hillbilly novels at all,” Harington said.

Fayetteville poet Miller Williams recalled sitting with Harington, whom he called a dear friend, to read first drafts of each others’ work over a glass of wine or a can of beer.

“Arkansas is going to be less than it was now that he’s gone,” he said. “His presence made us feel that being here mattered. He made everything we were around seem significant and he kept alive for us things that we would have let slip away.”

He won several awards for his work, including The Oxford American Lifetime Award for Contributions to Southern Literature and the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction and was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame and.

Harington was honored with both annual and lifetime achievement awards by the jury of the Porter Prize, which honors Arkansas writers.

Porter Prize co-founder Phillip McMath compared Harington’s writing about Arkansas to William Faulkner’s writing about Mississippi.

“He put us on the map in a cultural way,” McMath said.

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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 total comments

Squirrelhenge says... November 9, 2009 at 12:28 p.m.

What a sad day for Arkansas! One of my favorite reads is Mr. Harrington's "The Cockroaches of Stay More." It's funny and touching and you'll never look at those bugs the same way again. We are lucky he was among us and shared his fantastic imaginings.

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mdnorman_hotmail.com says... November 10, 2009 at 9:45 a.m.

I absolutely feel like I lost a friend today....one I never actually met. I have traveled with his books both actually and figuratively and left them behind for years with those I knew would appreciate and enjoy the ride. I always felt like I was taking a bit of Arkansas with me on every trip and then leaving a little bit behind with new fans of Arkansas, Staymore and our amazing culture. Two more books to go then will gladly start over again.
Thanks Dawny and please tell Latha "hey" for me.

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deethstuckar_aol.com says... November 10, 2009 at 10:37 a.m.

Donald Harrington understood his native state in a deep and meaningful way. He reflected that in his combination of spirtual depth and intellectual breadth in his memorable novels. He leaves an enduring legacy.

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Beggsm says... November 10, 2009 at 12:57 p.m.

"Harington is not in any sense an 'Arkansan,' and can't stand to hear that word, although he's a native of Little Rock and has lived in the state for most of his life. Yet he always has seen himself, and with deep passion, as a genuine 'Arkansawyer.'" --
http://www.monadnock.net/essays/harin...

I know this won't change anything at your paper, but it just struck me as disrepectful to use a term he loathed to describe him. He was a wonderful man and writer. It was an honor to know him and to publish some of his work before it went into book-form.

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taylorm_hsu.edu says... November 10, 2009 at 1:44 p.m.

Donald Harrington was a great American writer who, much like James Agee and John Hersey before him, often seemed more appreciated by other writers than by the general public. I hope that other Arkansawyers will discover and preserve his unique voice.

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nanhowze says... November 13, 2009 at 12:44 a.m.

I had Donald Harrington for two semesters of Art History at the University of Arkasas and it was a life changing experience. Besides making those two classes the most interesting - by far - of any in my four years at Fayetteville, he was also a nuturing and affirming teacher. I thank him for the passion he inspired in me for art. I wish I had told him what a difference he made. He was a class act.

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