Minnesota writer Carol Bly dies

Carol Bly
Minnesota writer Carol Bly died Friday of cancer at the age of 77.
Photo courtesy of Bly and Loveland Press

(AP) - Carol Bly, one of Minnesota's notable literary figures known for writing essays and letters with a strong moral voice, has died of ovarian cancer.

She was 77. She died Friday at the Pillars Hospice Home in Oakdale.

"One of the great heavy lifters is gone," said fellow writer and friend Bill Holm, of Minneota. "She never backed down from tackling large issues and large ideas in the culture."

Bly's writing reflected her belief that people must be sympathetic toward one another. She hated bullies, teasing, lying and social-class snobbery.

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"She was a light, a fire, for all those people wandering around on the prairie."

Many of her stories are set in Minnesota's small towns, including "Gunnar's Sword," a favorite among fans, about an old woman in a nursing home who walks back to her family farm in the winter.

In 1996, Milkweed published Bly's "Changing the Bully Who Rules the World." That book of selected writings and poems by many authors was called a masterpiece by Bly's longtime publisher, Emelie Buchwald. The book was considered ahead of its time for its exploration of violence.

Bly was born in 1930 in Duluth to Russell and Mildred McLean. She married Robert Bly in 1955 and moved to a farm in Madison, Minn.

The Blys both spoke out against the Vietnam War, Watergate, nuclear testing and other issues in their own writings and in a series of magazines they published together: The Fifties, The Sixties and The Seventies.

The couple divorced after about 25 years of marriage, but remained civil.

"She was a light, a fire, for all those people wandering around on the prairie," said Robert Bly, of Minneapolis. "She was an excellent mother. And a terrific friend of writers and of writing."

Author and writing instructor Tobias Wolff, of Palo Alto, Calif., called Bly's short stories "indelible, exemplary" and said he often uses them in the classroom at Stanford University.

"They have a tremendous moral rigor ... even a moral ferocity," he said.

In 2004, Carol Bly started Bly & Loveland Press with social worker Cynthia Loveland. They produced pamphlets against violent TV programs, "do-nothing" clergy members, and conservative Republicans. Bly & Loveland Press also sold Bly's personalized crossword puzzles.

In her final days, Bly strove to finish a novel.

"Shelter Half" will be published in June by Holy Cow! press of Duluth.

"I think it's a masterwork," publisher Jim Perlman said. "Her ability to draw characters and the rural landscape is just at the genius level as far as I'm concerned."

Bly is survived by two daughters, two sons and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for early 2008. Memorial gifts may be made to the Carol Bly Fund at the Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55415, or to the donor's choice.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)