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Steve Katz
Steve Katz

Steve Katz lived a life of words.

The avant-garde author, who died at age 84 on Aug. 4 at his home in Denver, came to the University of Colorado Boulder in 1978 and served as the director for the university’s creative writing program. He died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

His writing received praise over his lifetime, with his collection of stories “Creamy and Delicious” being featured in literary critic Larry McCaffery’s list of the 100 greatest books of the 20th century.

His son, Nikolia Katz, said his father lived an unconventional life but always was there for his family.

“He was a very good father who was proud of what we did,” Katz said. “He was always very supportive and encouraging.”

Katz remembers stories his father would make up for him and his friends as children, being told about imaginary characters like Squirmy the Worm and Mr. Fudgebitters. As he grew older he and his two brothers, Avrum and Rafael, would attend their father’s readings and meet peers in his literary field.

Katz said he will never forget the trips with his parents to Nova Scotia, where his father built a tepee from driftwood, which doubled as a writing studio. It was there Katz’s father would craft some of his stories.

Katz described his father’s life as “diverse and rich.”

Steve Katz was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1935, and moved to Italy before eventually taking the job at CU and living in Boulder, a city which “he loved,” his son said. He retired from CU in 2003.

Nikolia Katz was in high school when his father moved the family to Colorado. He said his father always had a fascination with the west and incorporated it into many of his stories.

Steve Katz’s work has been described by critic Larry McCaffery as “the most extreme and perfectly executed fictional work to emerge from the Pop Art scene of the late 60’s.” His postmodern stories were not always clear to Nikolia Katz as a child, but as he grew older he came to appreciate them more.

“Some of it I didn’t understand when I was young,” Katz said. “I reread the ‘Exagggerations of Peter Prince’ and I really appreciated it as an older person.”

But Katz said his father’s work is not “random” and does indeed have meaning to it. He said his father’s stories do not fit the typical mold.

“He really cared about the truth,” Katz said. “He didn’t like the conventions of literature that would shape a story. He thought his writing would pursue what is important while not pursuing conventions.”

His father’s work “played with narratives,” though his son laughed and said it could “frustrate some people who just wanted to read.” Above all else, Katz’s father cared about the human condition.

One of Steve Katz’s colleagues, Peter Michaelson, first remembers seeing Katz’s work while he was an editor for the Chicago Review in the early 1960s.

Michaelson said experimentation was the “driving force” for Katz’s work. Michaelson went on to teach with Katz in CU’s creative writing program, where he said Katz encouraged students to be confident and explore their passions.

He said their writing courses were about looking at society’s “successes, failures, aspirations and contradictions.”

Aside from being an “incredibly creative and inventive” writer, Michaelson said Katz had a “great sense of humor.”

“He was fun to be around, a lively mind,” Michaelson said. “I’m going to miss him, I already miss him and the literary scene will miss him. But there’s still his work … there’s plenty around for people to read and they should.”

When he wasn’t working, Katz enjoyed trips to museums with his son and two of his granddaughters.

“He was a true lover of the arts,” Nikolia Katz said. “He didn’t walk down a conventional path. He lived his life pursuing his own path and I think he had a beautiful life because of it.”