Missing Stephen

Renowned novelist Stephen Dixon, who contributed to this journal, has died. I can’t tell you how much he will be missed. He’s why we are here.

“Stephen Dixon, a prolific novelist and short-story writer whose humorous, freewheeling fiction traced the shocks and jolts of romance, aging and everyday life, in an experimental but plain-spoken style that brought readers deep inside the minds of his characters, died Nov. 6 at a hospice center in Towson, Md.”The Washington Post obituary noted. Dixon was 83.

What the Post did not share was Steve’s generous spirit. He was a longtime fiction professor at the Johns University’s prestigious Writing Seminars when I arrived as a graduate student. I had just left The Miami Herald to go to grad school, so didn’t think he would notice me nor my nonfiction work. But he connected, telling stories about his days as a reporter for radio — his Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev attack-interview conveyed well by the Baltimore Sun’s tribute. Steve made me feel welcome as a writer, and wrote a personal recommendation when I pursued a higher degree. And his warmth went beyond literary venues. He lived nearby,  and later came to a party at our home. He talked to my Greek-American mother about life, not lit, and she found him a fascinating gentleman. He was ever curious, kind, and thoughtful.

At one department event, Steve asked me what I was working on. I told him I had an idea for a journal that would feature ‘mostly true poetry and prose.’ Debates were raging about nonfiction being too fictional, and fiction being too real, so I wanted to cut through some of the distracting chatter and define the work for what it actually was. To grant permission to write a mostly true story. I usually have lots of ideas bouncing around, so this might have ended up as one I just talked about at parties.

Then, about a week later, an 8-by-11 envelope arrived in the mail. A few stamps at freewheeling crooked angles were stuck to the corner. Steve had pulled out pages from his stack of writing, stuffed them in the envelope and sent my way as a submission to my nonexistent journal.

That’s when I realized I had to make this happen.

Here’s Dixon’s lead story, “His Wife Leaves Him,” an excerpt, in the inaugural issue of 3QR: The Three Quarter Review.

We have been planning to publish a print issue of our journal, mostly because I wanted to hand the notoriously Luddite-leaning Dixon a physical copy. But life got in the way, and we didn’t make it in time. I will always regret that. We will now be publishing a tribute copy. But maybe he’ll know somehow.

Stephen Dixon was a literary lion, soft-spoken as a lamb. His writing was typewriter- tapping fierce, and his images brutally honest and deeply human.

He will be deeply missed.


By J. Cavanaugh Simpson, Founding Editor, 3QR: The Three Quarter Review


Stephen Dixon, sometimes described as an ‘experimental realist,’ published more than 500 short stories in the Paris Review, Playboy, Esquire and numerous other journals. He was a two-time finalist for the National Book Award, for his novels“Frog” and “Interstate,” and won the Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award.

Dixon’s writing implied ‘that reality has multiple aspects,’ New York Times reviewer William Ferguson once wrote, “that what we see is not fixed and unified but a jumble of competing versions.”

As Stephen Dixon wrote in his Author’s Note in 3QR’s inaugural issue in March 2012: 

“Some fiction I take almost whole from my life, some fiction I take almost whole from my imagination. My imagination is part of my life, of course, but the unlived part of it. So: whatever inspires a piece of fiction can come moments after I’ve finished experiencing it or can suddenly arise intact from my imagination. A work of fiction though, short or long, has to have a piece of imagination or life’s experience in it. A fiction can’t get away with coming solely from one’s imagination or life. If I’ve muddied my waters with that brief statement, so be it.”



2 comments on “Missing Stephen

  1. Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful tribute to my brother Steve. He would have been very honored to receive those words and to know the impact he had on you. He was an enormous spirit in a gentle soul. Thank you again.

    • Hi Pat, thank you so much for writing this! I haven’t been online recently so had not yet seen (Steve would be proud of my offline in-the-world living). We really feel a hole in the fabric of the universe with his passing. I’m sure he’s watching through the portal.

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