Key West’s literary community was already gathered over the weekend for the annual Literary Seminar when they learned they had lost one of their own. Novelist Robert Stone died Saturday in Key West. He was 77.
Key West was an appropriate home for Stone. As a writer, he was interested in life on the edge. In 1975 he won the National Book Award for "Dog Soldiers," his novel about heroin smuggling set in California and Vietnam. Other books examined lives at risk in Latin America and the Middle East, in the movie business and in long-distance sailing. His last novel, "Death of the Black-Haired Girl," was published in 2013.
In all, he wrote eight novels, two collections of short stories and a memoir called "Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties." And he had a lot to remember: He met writer Ken Kesey in northern California and wound up as one of the fabled Merry Pranksters, a group of free spirits that included Neal Cassady (of “On the Road” fame) and members of a band called the Warlocks — later known as the Grateful Dead. The group’s exploits were chronicled by Tom Wolfe in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
Stone and his wife Janice spent winters in Key West for more than 20 years, where they were part of the island’s fabled literary community.
“Bob was a towering literary figure and a great teacher,” said Arlo Haskell, incoming executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar.
“He had a huge influence on so many young writers and if you had the chance to talk to him, it was easy to see why,” Haskell said. “He was so passionate about what words could do, he had this rowdy generosity and charm, and he was always eager to push the talk a little bit further. What a loss.”
Writer William Wright, a friend of Stone’s, said memorial services will likely be held in Key West and New York City but have not yet been arranged.