Writing instructor and novelist Les Plesko has died
Les Plesko, an author and well-regarded instructor in creative writing, died Monday in Venice. Plesko taught at UCLA Extension, where he was a recipient of the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing.
The L.A. County coroner told City News Service that Plesko, who was 59, took his own life.
Venice was Plesko’s home and the setting for his 1995 debut novel, “Last Bongo Sunset,” about a heroin addict’s self-loathing, marginal beachside life in the 1970s. The book was published by Simon & Schuster and was lauded as “stylistically gorgeous” while recieving mixed reviews.
Plesko was a member of a now-legendary fiction workshop run by Kate Braverman since its inception in the early 1990s. It included authors Janet Fitch and Samantha Dunn; Dunn says Plesko was the writing workshop’s star.
“He was the one who gently prodded people to face their problems,” Dunn said Tuesday, adding that Plesko was an emotional and creative force within the group. “It it wasn’t for Les Pleko, I would just have 75 pages of fragments.” Instead, she wrote her novel “Failing Paris.”
Plesko had a hard time finding his place in a publishing environment that was changing. “A writer’s job once was to write beautiful sentences and create beautiful stories, and that’s what he did,” Dunn says. “He didn’t understand anything about platforms or promotion.”
Two Los Angeles-based independent publishers did publish Plesko in recent years; “Who I Was” was published by Deyermond Books in 2012 and “Slow Lie Detector” by Equator Books in 2009.
“His stories were beautiful, dark gems, and not everyone wanted to exist in his space,” says Dunn.
“I am still absorbing the shock and remembering the generous, gracious, brilliant spirit that was Les Plesko,” UCLA Extension writing program director Linda Venis wrote in an email Tuesday. “He taught fiction writing for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for many years—from tender beginners to novelists approaching professional status—and he never failed to convey to them, to quote Les, that ‘writing is a transforming, transcendent act.’ He will never, ever be replaced or forgotten.”
“R.I.P. Les Plesko. You were loved by many!!” tweeted Nicholas Brendon, the actor who played Xander on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“He was a kind, decent man,” wrote former colleage Tod Goldberg on Facebook, “and I hope he is at peace.”
Love a good book?
Get the latest news, events and more from the Los Angeles Times Book Club, and help us get L.A. reading and talking.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.