In Memoriam: Ronald Sukenick
American writer and literary theorist Ronald Sukenick, whose work pushed the boundaries and conventions of fiction, passed away on July 22, 2004, from inclusion body myositis, a rare degenerative muscular disease.
Sukenick was born in Brooklyn to Louis Sukenick, a dentist, and Cecile Frey Sukenick, on July 14, 1932. He obtained his B.A. from Cornell University where he helped to launch The Cornell Writer as fiction editor. Sukenick earned his PhD. in English literature from Brandeis University in 1962, approximately the same time that he wrote "The Permanent Crisis," his "first real story," which was written as a single extended sentence.
Sukenick believed that the conventional literary tradition was undermining fiction as a whole and that the creation of a new tradition should be developed to replace the old, but without a rejection of the works upon which the earlier tradition had been built. With his first novel, Up (1968), Sukenick upended literary norms with a work of metafiction determined to explore not what is known, but ways of knowing. The novel is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, following the internal/external machinations of writer Ronnie Sukenick as he pens a novel, alternating between reality and fantasy in chronological dissonance, and ending with Sukenick's remark, "I'm going to finish this today…. I'm just playing with words anyway, what did you think I was doing?"
Sukenick enjoyed as much notoriety from his advocacy for literary innovation and experimentation as for his own writing. In addition to penning such novels as Up and Out (1973), and short story editions like Death of the Novel and Other Stories (1969), Sukenick was a founder of The Fiction Collective, a publishing group of writers formed in 1974 as a reaction to conservatism in the publishing industry. The group re-formed in 1988 as Fiction Collective 2 (FC2), with Sukenick named as permanent director. Later he acted as publisher of American Book Review and Black Ice, a magazine of innovative fiction.
Sukenick's archive was acquired by the Harry Ransom Center in 1999, and includes drafts of his novels, short stories, and literary non-fiction as well as personal and professional correspondence and material associated with his college and teaching years.