Francine du Plessix Gray, 1930–2019
January 17, 2019
Journalist, novelist, memoirist, and biographer Francine du Plessix Gray died on Sunday, January 13 in New York City from complications of congestive heart failure. Mrs. Gray, as she preferred to be called, chronicled her troubled relationship with her father, mother, and stepfather in Them: A Memoir of Parents, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2006.
Prior to this memoir, Mrs. Gray established herself as a prominent reporter with such books as Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism, which explored the lives of the Berrigan brothers and Ivan Illich, among other religious activists, and Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope. In the 1970s, she began to publish novels including Lovers and Tyrants, which was excerpted in the New Yorker, and World Without End, about three friends on an existential quest in Russia. And, throughout her long career, she wrote art criticism for Art in America along with biographies of Louise Colet, the Marquis de Sade, Simone Weil, and Madame de Staël.
In 1982, when the New York Times invited her to reflect on her wide-ranging and varied writing life, she wrote a biting self-critique: “I am too many things I do not wish to be — a Jane of all trades shuttling back and forth between scant fiction, voluminous reporting, innumerable and unmemorable literary essays,” adding, “I write out of a desire for revenge against reality … to allay the dissatisfaction I still have with myself, to be something other than what I am.”
Mrs. Gray is survived by her two sons and five grandchildren.
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