The head of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop has died. Frank Conroy announced last summer that though he’d undergone successful treatment for colon cancer, he wanted to step down from teaching and leading the world-renowned program at the University of Iowa. Chris Offut was once a student of Conroy’s, and has been a visiting professor several times now. It says it was “terrific,” a dream come true after he’d been a student fifteen years earlier and then had the opportunity to return and teach at the workshop. He says it was great not only getting to give back to the program, but to work across the hall from Frank. Their classes met at the same time, so every day he’d meet with Conroy at his office before class. Offut says his enthusiasm and passion for teaching “was the same every week as it had been when I was a student. In that way he was still helping to inspire me, both as a teacher and a writer.” He says Conroy put literature ahead of everything. Offut expects that once arrangements are made there will be memorials in Iowa City and also in New York, the nation’s literary and publishing capital. “We’ve lost not just a director of the Writer’s Workshop, but we;ve lost a great leader in American literature.” Among the many writers to come through the workshop and become best-seller authors are novelist Ann Patchett and Iowa writer Jane Smiley. Conroy held the reins for 18 years before stepping down as head of the workshop and four finalists have made presentations in recent weeks to succeed him, but no final decision has been made.
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