Monday, October 18, 2010

Warren Keith Wright (1954–2010)

It is with sadness that the staff and directors note the passing of Warren Keith Wright, who for several years has been a proofreader for The Library of America, as well as a supporter of the series since its inception. He died unexpectedly and suddenly last week, due to cardiac arrest.

A resident of Arbyrd, Missouri (a rural town of just over 500 residents), Keith was also a contributor to the British magazine Opera and served as moderator (under the penname Bradford) on the Web site The Diary of Samuel Pepys, where fellow online colleagues have been posting remembrances.

One of the many remarkable things about Keith is that, while he became a charter subscriber to the LOA in 1982 and he took on the lion’s share of proofreading in recent years, most LOA staff members and directors never met him in person, and the few who did saw him just once, during a visit to New York two decades ago. Instead, his cheerful support was provided by correspondence, both “snail mail” and e-mail, as described in the Winter 2008–09 issue of the Library of America Newsletter:
He vowed to read every volume. And then he started writing letters—more than 200 so far—that have endeared him to the LOA staff. . . .

And thus began the fruitful relationship between Wright and the LOA, in which he continued to comment and to question possible errors, which were often corrected in future printings. His letters were “delightful,” said LOA president Cheryl Hurley, and many in the New York office have come to consider Wright a friend, though he has visited only once.

Over the years Wright’s letters have become chattier. In 1995, as he dissected a volume of Faulkner, he pointed out the word “cooter,” explaining that as “that classic reference White Trash Cooking confirms, a cooter is a turtle.”
Four years ago, Keith was hired by LOA as a freelance proofreader, which he did while taking care of his ailing mother (who died two years ago). He told us, “It made me think of Mrs. Frances Trollope, mother of British novelist Anthony Trollope, who tended the sick while writing her own novels.”

His favorite Library of America author, he said, was Dawn Powell. “She has an attitude toward life that I find very congenial, that life is a hard job but there’s some fun to be had out of it.” And, through his many letters and e-mail messages, Keith offered the rest of us plenty of that fun, and we will miss him greatly.

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