Chuck Kinder, novelist who inspired ‘Wonder Boys,’ dies at 76

Chuck Kinder in the early 1970s in California.
(Photo courtesy of Diane Smith)

Chuck Kinder, the novelist who became known for inspiring the central character in Michael Chabon’s 1995 novel “Wonder Boys,” has died. He was 76.

Kinder, whose death was confirmed by friends and associates, died Friday of heart failure in Miami.

A literary force with a larger-than-life personality, Kinder published his first novel, “Snakehunter,” in 1973, followed by 1979’s “The Silver Ghost,” 2001’s “Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale” and 2004’s “Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life.”

“Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale,” set mainly in the Bay Area in the 1970s, was perhaps his most famous work and became something of a myth to those who knew him, as the author is believed to have struggled with it for more than a decade. It tells the story of two bad-boy American writers and is based on Kinder’s real-life friendship with short-story author and poet Raymond Carver.


"[Kinder’s] work was and remains outstanding and fresh. He was a born storyteller with an instinct for myth, which was not exactly in favor compared to pared-down modernists like John Updike,” said novelist and screenwriter April Smith via email.

Smith first met Kinder in 1972 as a graduate student in Stanford University’s creative writing program and added that “his work is important for its bold original voice and synthesis of elegant literary style with genuine feeling and down home observation.”

The novelist was known for creating a safe harbor for other writers, and often threw parties for fellow writers and other creatives with his wife of more than 40 years, Diane Cecily, at their home. As a teacher and mentor, Kinder fostered the writing careers of authors including Chuck Rosenthal and Gretchen Moran Laskas.

Kinder’s most famous writing student is Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whom Kinder taught as an undergraduate in the 1980s. Kinder is thought to have inspired the fictional Grady Tripp, the disheveled, pot-addicted writer and professor at the center of Chabon’s 1995 novel “Wonder Boys.” The novel was adapted into the 2000 film directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Michael Douglas as Tripp.


Born in 1942 in West Virginia, Kinder grew up writing poetry and listening to the great storytellers in his family — his grandmother and his aunts. He began honing his craft at West Virginia University, where he earned a master’s degree in English and wrote the school’s first creative writing thesis. In the 1970s, Kinder lived in San Francisco and was awarded a fellowship followed by lectureship in fiction writing at Stanford University.

Kinder took positions as the writer-in-residence at UC Davis, and the University of Alabama, before settling in Pittsburgh, a city he called “the Paris of Appalachia.” For more than 30 years he taught at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a reputation as a generous, gregarious professor.

On Saturday, former students paid tribute to Kinder on social media.

“When I first came back to Pittsburgh for what I thought would be a one year Hollywood sabbatical, I met a great teacher/writer/human being named Chuck Kinder who embraced me so warmly, it was one of the reasons I felt like staying,” wrote Carl Kurlander in a blog post.


“He gathered together people who loved words and storytelling and by his very nature, weeded out the pretentious and those of self-importance,” Kurlander continued.

After suffering several health challenges in recent years including two strokes, a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery, Kinder retired as director of the creative writing program in 2014 and settled in Key Largo, Fla., with Cecily.

There he returned to his early love of poetry, publishing several collections including last year’s “Hot Jewels.”

He is survived by Cecily.