Colgate Literary Legend Passes

Frederick Busch, Colgate’s Edgar W.B. Fairchild Professor of Literature Emeritus, died of a heart attack on February 23 at the age of 64. He was a respected and popular professor during his tenure at Colgate, as well as a prolific and renowned writer.

Busch was a Colgate professor from 1966 to 2003. He was named to the Fairchild Professorship in 1986 and was responsible for the creation of a creative writing concentration within the English Department at Colgate. Additionally, Busch was instrumental in forming the Creative Writing Fellowship, which annually brings a new visiting writer to the department.

Busch also designed English 360: Living Writers. The popular course took a unique approach by inviting contemporary published authors into the classroom to discuss their work with students who had studied their pieces in advance. This innovative course was imitated at many colleges.

As a professor, Busch was known for both his expertise and his accessibility. He taught a course for first-year students, something many professors of his prominence choose not to do. He was also very willing to help his former students publish their work, as well as inspiring and encouraging many of them to become writers themselves.

Busch’s accomplishments extended beyond the Colgate classroom, however, as he wrote prolifically and with international acclaim.

According to his New York Times obituary, Busch had a humble start.

“His first writing room was in the bathroom of a tiny apartment he and his wife rented in Greenwich Village,” the obituary stated. “His desk was the toilet lid.”

Busch ascended from those humble beginnings to become a celebrated American writer.

While at Colgate he published 27 books, with another due to be published in October. Although his books did not crack the best-seller lists, they consistently sold well and received substantial critical acclaim. His works have been translated into Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Spanish.

Over the course of his career, Busch received numerous awards for his writing, including the National Jewish Book Award in 1984, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award in 1986, the 1991 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, as well as the Woodrow Wilson, NEA, James Merrill and Guggenheim Awards. He was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner and the National Book Critics Circle Awards with his novel, The Night Inspector.

Readers appreciated his straightforward style. According to the New York Times obituary, “Joyce Carol Oates, in the New York Times Book Review, complimented the, ‘deliberately underplayed technique [in his book Manual Labor].'”

Colgate Professor of English Deborah Knuth Klenck echoed these feelings.

“His fiction is wonderful,” she said. “His prose style is spare but at the same time lyrical.”

Several of Busch’s novels are set in Central New York, an area quite familiar with Colgate students.

Included on this list is the novel “Girls,” based on actual events, in which a Presbyterian minister’s daughter was abducted in the small town of Frankfort, NY, east of Utica. With this event as inspiration, Busch told almost the exact same story from the point of view of a security officer at a small local college.

While there are no students still on campus who were taught by Busch, his loss was felt among the faculty who knew him.

“Fred was a good friend and a great writer – the sort of guy I always liked having around here because he set the bar for faculty creativity,” Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology and Native American Studies Anthony Aveni said.

“He was a central figure within the department, and very eminent beyond the University,” Knuth Klenck said. “His generosity with his colleagues and students was unusual in such an important writer.”

Busch graduated from Muhlenberg College and went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Columbia University. Busch is survived by his wife, the former Judith Burroughs, of Sherburne, NY; two sons, Benjamin, of College Park, MD, and Nicholas, of Syracuse, NY; and one granddaughter.