FAYETTEVILLE — 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.