Katherine Dunn, whose best-selling novel Geek Love was a National Book Award finalist in 1989 and became a cult classic, died May 11 at her Portland home. She was 70.
Her son, Eli Dapolonia, says complications from lung cancer caused Dunn's death.
In addition to Geek Love and two earlier novels, Attic and Truck, Dunn worked as a journalist, writing for WW throughout the 1980s and also for The New York Times, Vogue, the Los Angeles Times, Playboy, The Oregonian, PDXS and other publications.
"For nearly 10 years, Katherine Dunn's brilliant prose graced the pages of Willamette Week," says editor and publisher Mark Zusman. "Her boxing coverage, her weekly column and her reportage on the underbelly of Portland were without parallel. She was a loyal friend, a great raconteur, and had as firm a handle on the tools of our craft as any writer I had the pleasure of working with. While I was her editor, I always felt like she was my mentor."
A 2014 WW cover story described the enormous emotion fans of Geek Love felt about the book and their fervent desire that Dunn would finish a long-promised sequel. That book was never published.
Dunn's son provided this account of his mother's life.
Katherine Karen Dunn was born on October 24th, 1945, in Garden City, Kansas. She was the fourth of five children. Her mother relocated several times prior to settling in Oregon where she married an auto mechanic. Ms. Dunn grew up in Tigard, Oregon, and attended Tigard High School. After high school she attend Portland State University and Reed College where she met a young man that she would reunite with decades later, and marry.
Her first novel, Attic, was published in 1970, and her son was born the same year in Dublin, Ireland. Her second novel, Truck, was published in 1971. When she returned to Oregon from Europe, Ms. Dunn settled in the Nob Hill neighborhood of Portland, a neighborhood she loved, and where she would remain until her death.
She faced challenges as a single mother. The money from her first two novels was gone, and she had a young child to feed. She worked long hours, in the mornings as a waitress at the Stepping Stone Café, and in the evenings as a bartender at the Earth Tavern. In the free minutes in between, she took care of her son and continued to write short stories, poetry, worked as a boxing reporter and eventually formed the bones of a new novel. That novel would be the bestseller, Geek Love, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. In addition to her fiction, Ms. Dunn worked as a boxing reporter, a columnist, poet, and on a number of nonfiction projects, including School of Hard Knocks: The Struggle for Survival in America’s Toughest Boxing Gyms, for which she would win the 2004 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Award.
In 2009 her work on boxing was collected into an anthology called One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing. Over the course of her career Ms. Dunn wrote for The New York Times, Vogue, the LA Times, Playboy, The Oregonian, Willamette Week, PDXS, and many others.
Dunn took up boxing training in her 40s, and in 2009 she made the news for fighting off a mugger less than half her age.
In 2012 Dunn reunited with her Reed College boyfriend, Paul Pomerantz, and they were married.
"They enjoyed four amazing years together," says her son, Eli.
Dunn is survived by Pomerantz and her son, Eli. Condolences may be sent to 25 NW 23rd Place, Suite 6, PMB 249, Portland, OR 97210. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in her name to National Public Radio. Funeral arrangements will be private.