Top Writers Who Died in 2021

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Courtesy of Heather Paul (Flickr CC0)

Between the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, mass shootings, and life in general, it seemed that every day brought news of more deaths throughout the year. In music, film, politics, sports and all areas, there are so many people to recognize who died in 2021, including many top writers who shaped best seller lists, childhoods and what was seen on screen.

The list of writers who died in 2021is long, and includes numerous celebrities who wrote top-selling autobiographies. They include Ed Asner, Larry King, Cloris Leachman, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Mudd, Christopher Plummer, Colin Powell, Cicely Tyson and Mary Wilson.

Let’s look at six of the writers who passed on this year and were renowned primarily for the books they drafted and their broad impact:

Eric Carle

One of the best-selling children’s book authors and illustrators, Eric Carle, passed away on May 23 of kidney failure in Massachusetts. Parents worldwide have shared Carle’s colorful world with their offspring.  “The Very Hungry Caterpiller” debuted in 1969 and is still a bedtime staple, along with his 1967 classic “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and over 60 more published. His board books, which feature vibrant colors and rich textures often displayed in collages, have been published in over 60 languages.

Carle was born June 25, 1929, in New York to immigrant parents who decided to return to Germany in 1935. His youth was spent in Nazi-run schools and war-time deprivations. An influential teacher, however, introduced him to abstract, modern artists banned under the regime. His father was drafted to fight for Germany and wound up in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp, At 23, after finishing art school, Carle moved back to the U.S, worked at the New York Times, served in Korea, and eventually went into advertising before crafting his first book.

Beverly Cleary

Newbery Award winner Beverly Cleary died on March 25 at the age of 104. Cleary admits she resisted reading as a child, yet the beloved children’s author eventually inspired generations to read.

Born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, she met her husband, Clarence Cleary while attending the University of California, Berkeley. She later studied at the University of Washington, Seattle, School of Librarianship before becoming a librarian in Washington. Inspired by her own children, she began creating stories and eventually became the writer of several book series for young readers. The best known featured her beloved characters Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, Ralph S Mouse and even Henry’s dog Ribsy.

writerJoan Didion

Joan Didion is considered to be a quintessential California writer. She lived for many years in New York, where she died Dec. 23 from Parkinson’s disease complications. However, many of her essays and novels mused on life in her home state, California. Didion was born Dec. 5, 1934, in Sacramento. She grew up around Air Force bases where her father was stationed in the Golden State, Colorado, and North Carolina. After attending the Univeristy of California, Berkeley, she began chronicling the cultural turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s for magazines in New York.

Didion rose to fame with her essay collection books, notably “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” and “The White Album.” She also collaborated with her late husband John Gregory Dunne on screenplays, including “The Panic in Needle Park,” “Play It As It Lays” based on her novel, the 1976 “A Star Is Born,” and “Up Close & Personal.” Her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking,” focused on caring for her ailing daughter while mourning Dunne, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005 and later became a Broadway play. President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal of Arts in 2012.

Norton Juster

Author, architect and teacher Norton Juster died March 8 in Massachusetts at age 91, following a recent stroke. He was born June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, NY. Juster served three years in U.S. Navy, got a B.A. in architecture from University of Pennsylvania.

Juster received a Ford Foundation grant to write a book on urban perceptions. Instead, he started writing a story about a boy named Milo. The work eventually became his first novel and a childhood classic – “The Phantom Tollbooth.” His then roommate, Jules Feiffer, illustrated it.

Another Juster story, “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics” was adapted into an Oscar-winning animated short film. The writer also authored several picture books, including one illustrated by Eric Carle.

In spite of his success as a writer, Juster did not give up on architecture. He ran a successful firm and taught environmental design at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry died of heart failure March 25 at 84. He had a prolific career with dozens of bestsellers and screenplays that became Oscar- and Emmy-bait movies, including “Brokeback Mountain,” “Hud,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Terms of Endearment.”

Texas dominated McMurtry’s works and his life. The writer was born June 3, 1936, in Archer City, the Texas town rechristened as Thalia in some of his novels. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas and an M.A. from Rice University before embarking on his successful writing career.

The author won an Academy Award for “Brokeback Mountain” and a Pulitzer Prize for “Lonesome Dove.” In 2014, President Obama presented McMurtry with a National Humanities Medal for his stories that combine the “drama of the American West with quintessentially American lives.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien on Oct. 4, 1941 in New Orleans, the site of several of her gothic novels. She died on Dec. 12 at age 80 after stroke complications in California, which became her home after marrying Stan Rice.

Rice initially started college in Texas, but left. The writer eventually completed a B.A. and an M.A. at San Francisco State University.  The couple moved to New Orleans in 1988. During the time in the city, Anne nearly died after falling into a diabetic coma and later, after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, suffered from a bowel obstruction. After her husband died of cancer and son moved to California, she moved west again.

The writer is best known for her Vampire Chronicles, including “Interview with a Vampire;” Mayfair Witches; Ramses the Damned and other book series. She also wrote erotic novels under pen names.

While each of these top writers died in 2021, their works will undoubtedly live on. Whether in Academy Award winning films or children’s bookshelves, these six authors left a considerable legacy.

Written by Dyanne Weiss


CNN: Joan Didion, famed American essayist and novelist, has died

New York Times: Anne Rice, Who Spun Gothic Tales of Vampires, Dies at 80

NPR: Eric Carle, Creator Of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ Has Died

Publishers Weekly: Obituary: Norton Juster

USA Today: Beverly Cleary, beloved children’s book author and creator of Ramona Quimby, dies at 104

USA Today: Larry McMurtry, literary giant of ‘Lonesome Dove’ fame, dies at 84

Featured Image of Anne Rice Courtesy of Heather Paul’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image of President Barack Obama and Joan Didion Courtesy of The Obama White House Archives, Public Domain


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