Obituaries

Chuck Kinder, novelist who inspired ‘Wonder Boys,’ dies at 76

NEW YORK — Chuck Kinder, who turned his friendship with Raymond Carver into a roman à clef, and whose long struggle to birth that book inspired a novel by one of his former students, Michael Chabon, died on May 3 in South Miami, Florida. He was 76.

His wife, Diane Cecily, said the cause was heart failure.

Mr. Kinder, who taught writing at the University of Pittsburgh for many years, was known for lively classes, livelier parties, a few memorable if underappreciated books, and a certain literary-bad-boy posture.

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“In a sense, his ‘outlaw’ persona, while it’s in part a way of camouflaging himself away from preciousness and self-regard, is also completely earned, in artistic terms,” novelist Richard Ford told The Pittsburgh Tribune Review in 2014 on the occasion of Mr. Kinder’s retirement from teaching. “Somewhere back in the blear past, Chuck might have known some rules about how novels ought to be framed, but he pretty quickly went beyond the rules and found forms and fascinations and imperatives that suited what he thought was important to write.”

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Perhaps his biggest claim to fame, though, was being the inspiration for a character in a novel written by Chabon, who had studied under him in the 1980s at Pitt. The book was “Wonder Boys,” published in 1995, and it involved the tribulations of a professor named Grady Tripp who, among other problems, had a manuscript he couldn’t quite finish.

Writer’s block wasn’t the problem.

“The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite,” Tripp, the novel’s narrator, says. “I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within.”

In a 2001 interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Chabon explained Mr. Kinder’s role in inspiring that character (who was played by Michael Douglas in Curtis Hanson’s 2000 film version).

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“I remember peering into his office and seeing this monolithic pile of white paper — the inverse of the monolith from ‘2001’ — under his desk lamp,” Chabon said. “In my memory, it was 4,000 pages long. He was proud of how big a bastard it was.”

The occasion for that interview was that Mr. Kinder had finally wrestled his long-gestating manuscript into a book of reasonable length: “Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale.”

“At one point, the book really did end up to be about three volumes of about 1,000 pages each,” Mr. Kinder told The Chronicle. “In my mind, it was like ‘Ulysses’ meets ‘On the Road’ meets ‘Dune’ meets ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ meets ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’ It was full of magical realism and a lot of ghost stuff, and even some spaceships landing on my rooftop in San Francisco.”

“Honeymooners” chronicled the adventures of two writers, one of whom seemed a lot like Carver (who died in 1988) and one of whom was a lot like Mr. Kinder himself.

Jay McInerney reviewed the book in The New York Times. “Like the candy mint that is also a breath mint,” he wrote, “it can be enjoyed as either a novel or a memoir. Or, if you prefer, as a metafictional object. Whatever. If ‘Honeymooners’ doesn’t make you laugh, cry and cringe with sympathetic embarrassment, then you should probably adjust your medication immediately.”

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Mr. Kinder’s other books included “The Silver Ghost” (1979) and two 2014 poetry collections “All That Yellow” and “Imagination Motel.”