Gerald Stern, Poet of Wistfulness, Anger and Humor, Dies at 97
Gerald Stern, whose wit and keen intelligence made him one of the best-loved poets of the second half of the 20th century, died Sunday at his home, in Beverly Hills. He was 97.
He had been in ill health for several years and suffered from bone marrow and stomach cancer, said his grandson, Mark Stern.
Mr. Stern was best known for his poem “A Christmas Carol,” which became the first poem to win the National Book Award for that year. Mr. Stern also wrote many other well-known works — “The Big Sleep” and “Catch-22,” to name just two, among them.
The poet, who had a remarkable ability to weave an intricate web of metaphors, and to create a highly individual character in his work, was considered one of the most gifted writers of modern times. While he had a reputation for writing “very sophisticated,” literary fiction, his poetry was often more accessible to the general reading public.
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Stern had grown up in the New York area and, as a child, was a member of the Young Communist League. In the 1930s, he taught literature at a New York high school, before beginning a 35-year career as a magazine editor and magazine fiction editor at Knopf, the nation’s leading publisher of poetry and fiction.
Mr. Stern, whose family owned a photography studio and other businesses, was one of the pioneers of New York City’s art scene in the 1930s and ’40s, when he began photographing contemporary artists and writers, including the poet John Ashbery. He had photographed many artists in the past, including the painter Roy Lichtenstein, and the sculptor Alexander Calder, who used him as a model.
“The Stern family has had an interest in photography in the New York area since the year 1796,” his granddaughter, Susan Stern, said in a statement.