- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006


William Styron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose explorations of the darkest corners of the human mind and experience were charged by his own near-suicidal demons, died yesterday in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. He was 81.

Mr. Styron’s daughter, Alexandra, said the author died of pneumonia at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Mr. Styron had been in failing health for a long time.

“This is terrible,” said author Kurt Vonnegut, a longtime friend. “He was dramatic, he was fun. He was strong and proud, and he was awfully good with the language. I hated to see him end this way.”

A handsome, muscular man, with a strong chin and wavy dark hair that turned an elegant white, Mr. Styron was a Virginia native whose obsessions with race, class and personal guilt led him to pen tormented narratives such as “Lie Down In Darkness” and “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” which won the Pulitzer despite protests that the book was racist and that, as a white Southerner, Mr. Styron could not get inside a slave’s head.

His other works included “Sophie’s Choice,” the award-winning 1979 novel about a Holocaust survivor from Poland, and “A Tidewater Morning,” a collection of fiction pieces. “Sophie’s Choice,” the basis of the 1982 movie and his last full-length novel, also drew criticism because its protagonist was someone unlike Mr. Styron.

He also published a book of essays, “This Quiet Dust,” and the best-selling memoir “Darkness Visible,” which recalled his suicidal depression.

Mr. Styron was a liberal long involved in public causes, from supporting a Connecticut teacher suspended for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance to joining a group of authors and historians who successfully opposed plans for a Disney theme park near the Manassas National Battlefield.

Mr. Styron was born in Newport News, Va., to a family whose history extends to Colonial Virginia. He served as a lieutenant in the Marines during World War II and was stationed in Okinawa in 1945. He was to take part in the invasion of Japan and didn’t expect to come out alive. The United States dropped the atomic bomb instead.

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