Alan Cheuse was a longtime book critic for NPR and a professor at George Mason University for 30 years. He wrote two-minute book reviews for “All Things Considered” on NPR (about 1,200 in all) as well as many more reviews for various publications, including dozens for The Times. He also hosted an NPR program called “The Sound of Writing.”
Alan Stuart Cheuse was born in Perth Amboy, N.J., on Jan. 23, 1940. His father was Philip Kaplan Cheuse, who was born in Ukraine, and defected from the Russian air force. His mother was the former Matilda Diamond.
After reading a manuscript about his father’s upbringing, the younger Alan Cheuse wrote in “Fall Out of Heaven,” “We’re traveling light but we’re encumbered, like all wanderers, with the ineffable but ever-present baggage of everything that’s come before.”
He studied literature at Rutgers University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and where he returned to earn a doctorate in comparative literature in 1974.
Alan Cheuse taught alongside Bernard Malamud at Bennington College in Vermont. He also taught at Sewanee: The University of the South, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan. At the time of his death in 2105, he had been teaching at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
“Live as much as you can, read as much as you can, and write as much as you can,” Cheuse taught would-be authors. Mr. Cheuse’s hope was for American writers to step out into the world, and to bring the world to America through books. This is the main focus of the Cheuse Center.
As we marked with deep sadness the passing of our beloved Alan, we are heartened and overjoyed by the formation of the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center at George Mason University. For Alan it would have been a dream come true to help create this. For us, it is a profound testament and legacy to the man we knew not only as husband, father, and grandfather, but also as an unstoppable force in the literary landscape.
We witnessed Alan’s devotion to literature first-hand, reflected in his daily reading and writing routines, which we saw him follow like clockwork. “I don’t do brunch,” he would say, so he could protect even his weekend morning time for books, and then regale us with new stories at dinner. There was always a review deadline, a novel in progress, a class to prepare. Yet it was this passion for the writing life--for Alan the two were inseparable--that inspired generations of students and launched hundreds of writers who were often first discovered through Alan’s unforgettable radio voice soaring through the air waves on NPR’s “All Things Considered”-- his finely etched reviews themselves miniatures of literary craft.
Alan’s vision for an international writing center at George Mason grew out of his lifelong commitment to reading and promoting the work of authors across a broad cultural spectrum. If ever you came across the stacks and stacks of books in his office, chances are you would find that many writers were from outside the United States. Such was Alan’s insatiable appetite for discovering unknown, at least in the West, contemporary writers from, say, far away China, India, Nigeria.
Alan’s global thrust into the wide world of literature began at an early age. In his essay, “Writing it down for James,” Alan lovingly recalled, at age three, snuggling up in bed with his parents, while his own immigrant father read to him in his native tongue from a book of Russian fairy tales. Knowing the works of writers internationally thus became a vital part of Alan’s humanity as a writer, and, over the years, as he grew into his role as beloved teacher and wise elder, he became increasingly insistent that his students have the opportunity of stepping into worlds far different from their own, just as he described finding himself as a writer in places ranging from the U.S.-Mexico border, to Bali, to New Zealand in A Trance After Breakfast and in tracing his own father’s journey across the world in Fall Out Of Heaven. In Alan’s words, in order “To know another mind. To know another life. To feel oneself in the heart of another human being.”
Under the guidance of Matt Davis, director of the Center, Alan’s dreams have been more than realized. Not only has Matt reached the Center’s goals for establishing an international exchange between George Mason University’s MFA program in Creative Writing and writers from abroad, but, in addition, he has launched innovative programs on the GMU campus and at embassies and cultural centers in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Alan would be delighted, and we couldn’t be more grateful.
Please join us in supporting The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center to celebrate its first year. We are committed to seeing it grow and succeed at a time when the capacity to embrace each other’s differences across the boundaries of our own country and throughout all nations is under such threat. Let The Cheuse Center become a home for bringing together writers and voices from around the world. This would have been Alan’s hope and it is our great hope for us all.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at upcoming Cheuse Center events.
Kris, Sonya, Emma, Josh and the whole Cheuse Family