Cartoonist Doug Marlette Dies in Crash

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 10, 2007; 11:24 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who recently turned his incisive wit toward a budding career as a novelist, died Tuesday in an auto accident in Mississippi. He was 57.

Marlette, who split his time between Hillsborough and Tulsa, Okla., and was visiting Mississippi to help a group of high school students with the musical version of his syndicated comic strip, "Kudzu." He had just delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

"You know, there's a couple of family members I'd rather have lost instead of Doug," said author Pat Conroy. "And he would have laughed at that. This has been a shock of all shocks."

Conroy spoke daily with Marlette and last talked with him Monday. The author of "The Prince of Tides" said he expected a call Tuesday evening after Marlette had wrapped up a rehearsal with the drama students at Oxford High School, adding he had no idea how he will fill the void left by his friend's death.

"I've simply been sitting here crying all day, not knowing the answer to that question," Conroy said. "Just don't know."

Marlette started his cartooning career in 1972 at The Charlotte Observer, and most recently was on staff at the Tulsa World. He won the Pulitzer prize in 1988 for his work at The Observer and the Atlanta Constitution, the same year the Observer won the Pulitzer's public service award for its work detailing the misuse of funds by Jim Bakker's PTL television ministry.

At the time of the Pulitzer, Marlette said his biting approach could be traced in part to "a grandmother bayoneted by a guardsman during a mill strike in the Carolinas. There are some rebellious genes floating around in me."

Marlette was the passenger in a pickup truck driven by John P. Davenport, of Oxford, Miss., the theater director at Oxford High School, said Sgt. Leslie White, a spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Davenport was treated at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford and released. He declined to comment Tuesday when reached at his home.

Marshall County Coroner John Garrison said the accident occurred in heavy rain about three miles east of Holly Springs. He said he believed the truck hydroplaned, then struck the tree.

The Oxford students planned to perform "Kudzu: A Southern Musical" in August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and Marlette planned to write a magazine story about the production, said Katharine Walton, a Marlette friend and his North Carolina-based publicist.

Marlette published two novels, "The Bridge," in 2001, and "Magic Time," in 2006. He was just "finding his voice in writing long-length fiction and was finding great joy in it," said Sarah Crichton, his editor at Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar Straus & Giroux.

"It's tremendously sad to me that he only had the chance to write these two novels because he was both brilliant at and excited by it," she said.

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