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Posted: 11/20/2012 2:00:33 PM

Joseph BlotnerIt is with great sorrow that we write with news our friend and former colleague, Emeritus Professor Joseph Leo Blotner, whose biography of William Faulkner set a new standard for literary biography, died on November 16, 2012, in Oakland, CA.


Joseph Blotner, 89: Biographer of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren

Joseph Leo Blotner, whose biography of William Faulkner set a new standard for a literary biography, died on 16 November 2012 in Oakland, California. As the editor of the Faulkner letters and then of all Faulkner’s novels for the Library of America, Professor Blotner was the crucial expert of his era on one of America’s greatest novelists. His biography of Robert Penn Warren, moreover, was widely lauded and led to the establishment of the Joseph Blotner archives at the Penn Warren Library of Western Kentucky University. 

Professor Blotner was also the author of a lively memoir, An Unexpected Life, in which he describes his atypical path to becoming one of the leading scholars of Southern literature.  Born in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, in 1923, he halted his undergraduate career at nearby Drew University in order to serve in the Air Force. He was a bombardier aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress, and on his sixth bombing mission over Frankfurt, Germany, his plane was shot down. Blotner was held in a German prisoner-of-war camp for 6 1/2 months until Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.

Following his discharge, he returned to Drew, then achieved a Masters at Northwestern Universityand a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.  Professor Blotner taught at the University of Idaho, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan. 

Professor Blotner’s own last days were characteristically gentle.  After the tragic illness and death of his first wife Yvonne in 1990, Professor Blotner enjoyed a sustaining marriage with Marnie Allen.  When she died in 2006, he moved to California to be near a daughter and son-in-law.  Explaining his surprising interest in the South given his Northern birthplace, Professor Blotner characterized himself as “a resident of Yoknapatawpha County in the heart.”  A dedicated husband and father, Joe Blotner was also a friend to great authors and nervous students alike.  He served academia brilliantly and his nation bravely.  His surviving family members and friends and colleagues could say of him as he said of Faulkner in the biography’s preface, “I will not see his like again.” 

Joseph Blotner is survived by his daughters, Tracy Blotner Willoughby of Dexter Michigan, and  Pamela Blotner of Berkeley, CA and his granddaughter, Marnie Alicia Allen, of Charlottesville, VA.  Nancy Blotner, his third daughter, died in 2004. 

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