Daniel Stern Dies at Age of 79
Daniel Stern, former fellow in the Wesleyan Center for the Humanities, the
Boynton Visiting Professor in Creative Writing in the College of Letters and
a visiting professor in Letters and English, died on Jan. 24 at the age of
79. He was living in Houston, Texas.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Stern had taught in the University of
Houston's Creative Writing Program, where he was a Cullen Distinguished
Professor of English since 1992.
Wesleyan Professor of Letters Paul Schwaber has shared the following tribute
to Professor Stern, which he wrote in 1991 when Stern was given the Cullen
Professorship at the University of Houston:
“You already know of his extraordinary literary talent and productivity,
that he broods on the moral catastrophes of the century and how they have
been and may be rendered in art. He is a novelist, essayist, and dramatist
of consistent and genuine accomplishment, and his commitment to the art and
hard work of writing is inspirational. He is also a wonderful teacher--for
he brings to bear in especially vital ways his loyalty to craft, his
insider's view of the literary world, his fascination with persons, his love
of music, and his broad, lively experience in business. He talks easily with
student and evokes from them a pitch of pleasure in words and a moral
seriousness they may not have sensed in themselves. Very successful with
lecture courses, seminars, and writing workshops, Dan is witty, kind, full
of information, a superb anecdotalist, a splendid responsible, warm, and
delightful colleague. He is also a fine listener. As you may imagine, I wish
I could offer him a job here. Your students will be lucky indeed to be
taught by him, to be inspired and encouraged by his presence.”
Stern grew up on New York City's Lower East Side and began playing cello as
a child. At 17 he skipped his high school graduation to go on the road
behind jazzman Charlie Parker. He spent a year playing with the Indianapolis
Symphony, during which time he began writing stories. Although he studied at
various institutions, including Columbia University and the Juilliard
School, he never earned a college degree.
In 1953 he published The Girl With the Glass Heart, the first of his
nine novels. His most important novels include Who Shall Live, Who Shall
Die? (1963), an early contribution to literature of the Holocaust, and
After the War (1965), which focuses on postwar experimentation by
young people trying to make up for lost time.
Stern held high-profile day jobs to support his writing habit. In 1963, he
married Gloria Branfman and went to work in advertising, eventually becoming
senior vice president of the McCann-Erickson agency. In 1969 he joined
Warner Bros. as the studio's vice president for advertising and publicity
When Stern taught at Wesleyan he inaugurated the annual Philip Hallie
lecture at the College of Letters. He worked at CBS before joining the
University of Houston, where he succeeded Donald Barthelme in the
prestigious Cullen professorship.
The late 1980s marked a watershed in Stern's writing. He published Twice
Told Tales, stories organized in a fresh, imaginative way. Stern took famous
works like Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener or Freud's The Interpretation
of Dreams and wove their themes into a new context. A second volume of
twice-told tales, Twice Upon a Time, came out in 1992.
Stern numbered among his friends literary heavyweights such as Elie Wiesel,
Joseph Heller, Frank Kermode, and Bernard Malamud. In a 2006 festschrift
devoted to Stern and his work, Wiesel wrote, "To spend an evening with him
without laughing is quite simply impossible."
Stern is survived by his wife, Gloria Stern; son and daughter-in-law Eric
and Beverly Branfman; and grandchildren Melissa and Joshua Branfman.
Burial was in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
Obit information adapted from the Houston