Frank Soos, a former Alaska Writer Laureate and longtime creative writing professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, died last week. Soos was 70 years old.
The essayist and short story writer was killed in a solo bicycle accident Wednesday, Aug. 18, according to a report in the Fairbanks News-Miner. Soos lived in Fairbanks with his wife Margo Klass, a mixed-media artist and frequent collaborator, but the accident was in Maine, where the couple often spent time in the summer.
Soos was born in 1950 and raised in the coal town of Pocahontas, Virginia. He attended Davidson (N.C.) College and the University of Arkansas and came to Alaska in 1986 after he was hired to teach creative writing in the English department of UAF. Anne Hanley wrote in the Anchorage Daily News in 2005 that “he delighted almost two decades’ worth of students with his gentle wit and then nailed them with his probing questions.”
Soos retired as professor emeritus from UAF in 2004.
Soos was a board member and program chair of the statewide organization 49 Writers. Current board president Barbara Hood said Soos was always calm and never heavy-handed — but always up-front.
“He had a really uncanny ability that not all of us recognize, help us see what we were trying to write about,” Hood said. “It’s not always easy to ask the question that a good essayist is asking, and he always brought us back to that.”
“I think we all feel very privileged that he was part of our world,” she said.
Soos’ works included “Unified Field Theory,” “Bamboo Fly Rod Suite: Reflections on Fishing and the Geography of Grace” and 2016′s “Unpleasantries: Considerations of Difficult Questions.” He was a fellow with the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989 and won a Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction in 1998 for “Unified Field Theory.”
Soos was an avid cross-country skiier, biker, backpacker and all-around outdoorsman. His time in the natural world often informed his writing, including in an essay on climate change recently published in the Washington Post.
In a remembrance shared on the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks site, Dave Musgrave, a close friend of Soos’, wrote that he was a soft-spoken man “6′5″, skinny as a rail with huge ears, a cookie duster mustache, floppy hair and angular limbs. Sort of an Ichabod Crane guy with a baseball cap.
...He was modest about his own accomplishments and was self-deprecating and introspective. His dry wit was incisive. His knowledge of the world of politics and pop culture was broad and deep.”
Soos was named an Alaska Writer Laureate in 2014.
“He’s simply the best teacher I’ve ever known, hands down,” Fairbanks artist and UAF professor Kes Woodward said of Soos in 2014.
“I’ve been in his classes and I’ve worked with his students at all levels. Part of his being a great teacher is his also being a great writer, you can’t separate the two.”