CHICAGO -- Richard G. Stern taught literature and creative writing at the University of Chicago for 46 years while establishing himself as a writer of novels and essays that won a devoted if never especially wide following.
Stern, 84, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Tybee Island, Ga., his son Andrew said.
Stern, a "breakfast table conversationalist," spent much of his time cultivating students and engaging with those who "enjoyed the life of the mind," said David Bevington, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and longtime colleague. Stern's circle of friends included Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.
Students in the writing classes Stern taught were held to very high standards, Bevington said.
"You had to be a pretty skillful writer to be in his classes," he said. "They were mainly the serious pursuit of writing fiction. Students would say he's a very knowledgeable but exacting teacher." In his long literary career, Stern wrote more than 20 books. Among the best-known, according to Bevington, was "Other Men's Daughters," published in 1973. Though highly regarded in the literary field, Stern never achieved the wider popular following many thought he deserved, Bevington said.
"He was very aware he was in the shadow that way, but intellectuals regarded him as important," Bevington said. "His writing is somewhat dense, although clear. Perhaps he was writing for a more tough body of intellectuals." Stern was born Feb. 25, 1928, in New York City. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in 1947, his master's from Harvard University in 1949 and his doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1954.
With his first wife, Gay Clark, he had four children, Christopher, Andrew, Nicholas and Kate. After they divorced, he married the poet Alane Rollings.
Andrew Stern said that growing up in Hyde Park, Ill., he and his siblings regularly met authors and academics his father brought to their home. Stern also worked very hard, his son said.
"He spent his career writing like mad," his son said.
Stern's first novel, "Golk," was published in 1960. His other novels include "Stitch," "Natural Shocks" and "A Father's Words." He received the Award of Merit from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985. Stern also was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Award in 1995.
In 2001, he retired from the university as Helen A. Regenstein professor emeritus in English language and literature.
Andrew Stern said his father traveled widely, once moving the entire family to Venice, Italy, while he was on a yearlong sabbatical.
"He loved soaking up the world to try and come up with characters," his son said.
Stern also loved playing tennis. "He was intense about the sport," his son said. "We'd go play for hours in the withering-hot sun on courts where the Regenstein [Library] is now." Stern continued to write in his later years, publishing a collection of essays, lectures and other writings called "Still on Call."