The University of Iowa

James Alan McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author, Writers' Workshop Professor, Dies at 72

James Alan McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Iowa Writers' Workshop professor emeritus and beloved community member, has died. He was 72. He passed away Wednesday, surrounded by friends and family, at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City.

His death was announced in a press release by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he was a professor emeritus. 

“I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy,” Mr. McPherson wrote, “one will have earned the right to call oneself ‘citizen of the United States.’”

James Alan McPherson is the author of two story collections, Hue and Cry, and Elbow Room; the memoir, Crabcakes; and the essay collection, A Region Not Home. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, he has degrees from Morris Brown College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his collection, Elbow Room, in 1978.

A faculty member at the Writers' Workshop since 1981, he is the recipient of fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation, and he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.

He was a beloved member of the Iowa City community. From a piece in Ploughshares magazine called "About James Alan McPherson," James DeWitt writes  "...gradually [McPherson] began to connect with his Iowa City neighbors, with colleagues, and with students, and to see in Iowa City the basis of a spiritually centered democracy. 'I have many friends here,' he wrote, 'black and white and other ... I am confident that here I am first of all a person, a human being. I have been accepted into the life of the community. I have open and free access to what in this community has meaning and value.'"