Dan Wakefield, prolific author and journalist, dies at 91

Dr. Isaac Asimov, right, chats with Novelist Dan Wakefield, Boston, and Writer and Crusader against population growth Stephanie Mills on August 1, 1974 in Berkeley, California., as the two hold laurels after being crowned "Nonparents of the Year." The couple was honored at New York's Central Park during "Nonparents Day" ceremonies, which extolled childless families. No storks were to be seen. (AP Photo)
Dan Wakefield, left, with writers Stephanie Mills and Isaac Asimov at an event in Berkeley in 1974, died on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Dan Wakefield, a novelist and journalist who wrote about diverse topics including his journey with spirituality and the civil rights movement, died Wednesday at 91.

His death was confirmed by Will Higgins, who hosted a public radio show with Wakefield in 2016 and 2017, according to news reports. Wakefield's health started to decline last year following a stroke.

Wakefield graduated in 1955 from Columbia University with an English degree. He wrote for the Nation, Playboy, Esquire and other publications. For the Nation, he covered the trial in the murder of Emmett Till, the Black teenager from Chicago whose 1955 torture and killing in Mississippi helped propel the civil rights movement.

He published his first book, "Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem," in 1959, about the time he spent living in the Manhattan neighborhood.

Among the more than 20 books he would go on to write were "Going All the Way" in 1970, about Korean War veterans, and his 1973 work, "Starting Over," the tale of a divorced man who explores his dating life in the sexually liberated 1970s.

Those bestsellers were made into feature films. In 1997, Wakefield wrote the screenplay for the "Going All the Way" adaptation, which starred Ben Affleck and other big-name stars.

The author spoke in 1985 to The Times about his novel published that year, "Selling Out," whose protagonist is a college professor who is lured to Hollywood and taken in by the wealth and glitter. The book mirrored Wakefield's experience.

His time in Hollywood included creating the short-lived 1977-78 NBC series "James at 15." He made headlines after walking out, just a few months after the show premiered, after NBC removed a reference in a script to birth-control pills.

He didn't love Hollywood.

“All you do is take meetings," he said. "When you write a novel, you don’t have to meet even the publisher. But when you sell an idea out here, you have to sell yourself. It’s agonizing. I freeze and my voice goes an octave lower."

Read more: Chris Mortensen, award-winning journalist and ESPN NFL analyst, dies at 72

In his nonfiction, the author often explored the topic of spirituality, including in the books "Creating From the Spirit" and "Returning: A Spiritual Journey."

In the latter memoir, he told of his own spiritual arc, one that included Baptist baptism as a child in Indianapolis, atheism in college, and a 1980 Christmas Eve service in Boston that marked the start of his path back to Christian belief.

Although he moved to Miami when his health declined, Wakefield spent his last years in his native Indianapolis. The city is home to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, whose namesake author was a close friend of Wakefield's.

Wakefield served as an honorary board member of the Vonnegut facility, according to the IndyStar.

The Vonnegut museum's founder and CEO, Julia Whitehead, sent an email following Wakefield's death to the facility's supporters, according to the news outlet.

"Through Dan’s novels, essays, and journalism," she wrote, "he captured the essence of life's complexities, inviting us to explore the depths of the human condition with honesty and authenticity."

Get notified when the biggest stories in Hollywood, culture and entertainment go live. Sign up for L.A. Times entertainment alerts.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.