Books Magazine

24 Hours That Changed Literature

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

This is one of the more interesting little tidbits I’ve discovered about an author since I’ve started this project.

Nathanael West died the day after his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940.

Here’s how our friends at Wikipedia describe his death:

On December 22, 1940, West and his wife Eileen McKenney were returning to Los Angeles from a hunting trip in Mexico. Possibly distraught over hearing of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death (Fitzgerald died on the 21st, his death was made known the next day), West ran a stop sign in El Centro, California, resulting in a collision in which he and McKenney were both killed. McKenney had been the inspiration for the title character in the Broadway play My Sister Eileen, and she and West had been scheduled to fly to New York City for the Broadway opening on December 26. West was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens,New York, with his wife’s ashes placed in his coffin.

Fitzgerald was 44. West, 36.

That has to be one of the strangest coincidences in the annals of literarydom ( I made that word up in case you were wondering). How do two close friends, both writers, die within 24 hours of each other from totally unrelated causes: West, a car crash and Fitzgerald, heart attack?

That’s just eerie, man. Eerie.

Also, Fitzgerald and West were connected through the nature of their work–both were burned out on Hollywood and portrayed its harsh realities in their books. With West, that came in the form of The Day of the Locust, which I’m reading through right now.

When Fitzgerald died, he was working on a similarly themed novel called The Last Tycoon, which was eventually published posthumously in 1941.

So who knows whether West was “possibly distraught” over Fitzgerald’s death (as the Wikipedia entry claims) when he wrecked the car that killed him and his wife. Whether distraught driving led to his death or not, the timing of their deaths was a terrible coincidence.

Two amazing authors who died well before their time.

More details about this over at Entertainment Weekly.

Image via Find a Grave. 

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