Donald Harington dies at 73

Author, art historian, and former University of Arkansas professor Donald Harington passed away on Saturday night in Fayetteville after a battle with cancer. He was 73 years old.

Harington was born in Little Rock, Ark. in 1935. He lost his hearing to meningitis at age 12, but Harington was not slowed by his impairment much at all.

He taught art history at several colleges in New York, New England, South Dakota and finally at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for 22 years before retiring last year. He was a well-known, and well-loved novelist, publishing 15 novels about his fictional Ozark town of “Stay More.” His last novel, “Enduring” was published in September of this year.

Harington has won several awards for his work, including a Lifetime Award for Contributions to Southern Literature from Oxford American Magazine in 2006, the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction in 2003, and was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame in 1999.

Lots of people will remember Harington for his novels. I’ll remember him as a professor who probably taught me more in the two semesters I had with him at the University of Arkansas than any professor in my entire four years there.

He was a tough teacher. He expected a lot out of his students. He’d lock the door at class time and those who were late weren’t allowed in. I remember that if you missed more than one or two class periods, he would begin taking the absences out of your grade. He expected participation in the discussions by requiring students to turn in notecards with questions on them and he’d collect the notecards to use as a gauge for who was engaged in the conversations he led about art. He graded tough. Sometimes, he yelled.

But to this day, I can still recognize the style, period, and artist on nearly any painting done by one of the artists we studied whether I’ve seen it before or not.

Harington’s legacy will be carried out both in his novels that so many Arkansans and people around the world have loved so much, and through his knowledge and passion for art that he imparted into the minds of his students.

John Guilds in his anthology, ARKANSAS, ARKANSAS, wrote, “if Miller Williams ranks as the greatest poet born, bred, nurtured, and still living in Arkansas, Donald Harington is by the same standards Arkansas’s greatest novelist.”

He was also one of the University of Arkansas’ greatest teachers.

Moore’s Funeral Chapel in Fayetteville is expected to hold a private service for friends and family, and the University of Arkansas is expected to release details of a public memorial in the coming days.

Photo by Sabine Schmidt