Salida resident and author Kent Haruf, 71, died peacefully at his home Sunday.
Although Haruf was known worldwide for his bestselling novels, in Salida he was mostly a beloved friend and mentor to many.
His passing came after a long illness. In recent months, he was a hospice patient – an organization that he supported for many years.
Haruf had just completed his last novel, “Our Souls at Night,” which will be published next year.
His novels have been described as quiet and moving and have been nominated for numerous national and international awards. When “Plainsong” was nominated as a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999, the committee stated “From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace – a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport and lift the reader off the ground.”
Prior to moving to Salida in December 2000, Haruf spent 30 years teaching English and writing.
The son of a Methodist minister, Haruf was born Feb. 24, 1943, in Pueblo.
Haruf was born with a cleft lip, which was only partly corrected by surgery. The surgeon died before completing the operation, and Haruf’s parents took that as a sign of God’s will, so nothing more was done. In an interview in Granta Magazine, Haruf said that while the cleft lip caused him embarrassment and to turn inward, it helped him to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what they were feeling.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965 and a master’s degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973.
Prior to becoming a writer, he worked in a variety of jobs that provided him with background for some of his novels. He worked on a chicken farm in Colorado, a construction site in Wyoming and a rehabilitation hospital in Denver, among other jobs.
Haruf was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and during that time served as an English teacher with the Peace Corps in Turkey.
His first novel, “The Tie that Binds,” in 1984 received a Whiting Foundation Award and a special Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation.
When “Plainsong” was published in 1999, it became a U.S. best seller, winning the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.
“Eventide,” a sequel to “Plainsong, and was published in 2004, followed by “Benediction” in 2013, which was shortlisted for the Folio Prize.
“He was the kindest, most gentle man I’ve ever known,” said Jim Elmore, Salida, a close friend. “I’ve known Kent for 15 or more years, and as a human being he was one of the most remarkable men I have ever known, and that played out in his writing.
“He came from out on the Colorado plains and moved to Cañon City and became a college professor and participated in peace marches with Martin Luther King in the 1960s. He’s somebody I can say was a truly good man.
Lisa Marvel of The Book Haven said, “Kent was a poet who wrote beautifully woven stories, a loving father and husband and a kind and generous man who was a genuine friend.”
Jennifer Dempsey, Haruf’s stepdaughter, said, “I am unspeakably sad. He was a wonderful father to me and a wonderful friend and mentor. He and my mother helped deliver my son, Henry, now 3½ years old, and Poppy, as Henry knew him, was a wonderful grandfather.”
Marti Thomas, Fort Collins, is a former Salidan. She and her husband, Tom, are close friends with the Harufs.
“Kent and Tom loved to talk football,” Marti said. “Kent and I had nice visits about life in general. As couples, we went to the Santa Fe opera together, and I remember discovering I had the wrong date for the opera but we ended up being able to go. We had a lot of good times with him. I got to know Cathy through hospice, and Kent gave proceeds from his books to support hospice.”
Author Susan Tweit, Salida, said, “In Salida, Kent Haruf was simply Kent, a regular at the coffeehouse, a patron of the library, an attendee of concerts and plays, a hospice volunteer, part of the Buddhist sangha, a neighbor and friend. He was modest and unassuming, funny and wise. When he asked, ‘How are you?’ he listened to the answer because he wanted to know. He cared.”
Salida Regional Library is planning a display of his work.
Barbara Ford, local writer and one of Haruf’s many friends, said, “Salida felt proud to have him here and genuinely liked him. He was very uneasy about being a famous writer. He had this genuine humility and was very deflective if you tried to give him a compliment on his writing. It was like he didn’t want to hear your praise of his work. He wanted to know who you were.
“If I had to say one sentence about him, it is that he had a certain fineness of humanity that I haven’t encountered in very many people.”
Kent Haruf is survived by his wife, Cathy, and three daughters, five stepchildren and nine grandchildren. His memorial service will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at Salida SteamPlant, 220 W. Sackett Ave.