Bette Howland, "who wrote three well-regarded books in the 1970s and early '80s, then faded from the literary scene, only to be rediscovered recently," died December 13, the New York Times reported. She was 80. Two years ago, her son Jacob, a philosophy professor at the University of Tulsa, "wrote an article for Commentary describing a chain of events that led not only to a reassessment of his mother's writing, but also to the emergence of a decades-long correspondence Ms. Howland had with Saul Bellow, who he said was a longtime friend and, for a time, a lover," the Times noted.
The literary and art journal A Public Space is making her novella Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage the initial publication of its new book imprint next year and printed excerpts from those letters and a portfolio of her writing in the December 2015 issue. The Times wrote that Howland's work "might never have resurfaced had not a copy of W-3 caught the eye of Brigid Hughes, editor of A Public Space, when she was browsing through a $1 cart at the Housing Works Bookstore in Manhattan in 2015. The book intrigued her, and some digging eventually led her to Jacob Howland." A Public Space aims to eventually reissue all of her books, which include W-3, Blue in Chicago and Things to Come and Go: Three Stories.
Howland received a MacArthur Foundation ("genius grant") award in 1984, but her literary output dwindled. "My mother was always writing, but she almost stopped publishing fiction after winning the MacArthur Award in 1984," Jacob Howland wrote in 2015. "What appeared in print was mostly literary criticism. Though it was a financial blessing--my mother snagged bargains in thrift stores all her life, and the money has lasted to this day--the MacArthur was a curse as well. I suspect she felt anything she published afterward had to justify the judges' esteem.... Late in her career, however, Bette produced an extraordinary novella [Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage]."