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Vance Bourjaily, prolific novelist and writing professor, dies at 87

John W. Aldridge (left) and Vence Bourjaily, co-editors of DISCOVERY, examining proof sheets. (Washington Post file photo)

He spent his boyhood on a farm near Winchester, Va., where his chores included milking cows and picking apples, and was kicked out of a boarding school in Pennsylvania.

"I was along with being a breaker of rules against smoking, reader after lights out, sneaker off bounds and defiant graffiti writer, a naturally born intellectual sloth," he explained. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1947.

His marriage to Bettina Yensen ended in divorce. One of their daughters, Anna, died in 1964.

Survivors include his second wife, of San Rafael, Calif.; two children from his first marriage, Robin Bourjaily of Des Moines and Philip Bourjaily of Iowa City; a stepdaughter, Raissa Williams of San Francisco; a brother; and five grandchildren.

From 1957 to 1980, Mr. Bourjaily taught at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop alongside his friends Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut, whom he called among "the half dozen people I like best in the world."

In Iowa, Mr. Bourjaily rolled his own cigarettes and roamed his property in a pickup truck to check on his sheep, horses and cattle. Students such as John Irving and T.C. Boyle attended pig roasts at Mr. Bourjaily's farm 10 miles outside Iowa City.

He hunted pheasant and wild duck with "Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison, who borrowed Mr. Bourjaily's camouflage for the outings.

Mr. Bourjaily once gave another of his hunting partners, Vonnegut, this sage advice: "The bigger the game, the more corrupted the soul of the hunter."


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