1916 - 2013
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Phillip Bonosky (1916-2013) Obituary
Novelist, journalist, and labor activist Phillip Bonosky, of New York City, died on Saturday (March 2, 2013) at Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn. He was 96.
He was born in 1916 to Lithuanian immigrant parents in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, in the heart of the coal and steel industry. Like his father and brothers, he worked in the Duquesne Steel Works, but could not find work in the Depression. Bonosky "rode the rails" and eventually landed in a Washington, DC homeless shelter under the Transient Bureau, where his social worker was Ann Terry White, married to Treasury Department official Harry Dexter White. Through assistance from the Whites, odd jobs, and a monthly payment of $20 from the National Youth Administration, he was able to complete two years of study at Wilson Teachers College. He was hired by the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Writer's Project for the Guide to Washington D.C. He joined the Communist Party USA in 1938.
Bonosky served contemporaneously as President of the Washington D.C. section of the Workers Alliance, pressuring the government to meet the needs of the unemployed in finding jobs, housing, food, and health care. He led a delegation to meet with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1940, widely reported in the local press. A well-known activist in the city, he spoke at demonstrations and testified before Congress. During World War II, Bonosky became a fulltime organizer for the Communist Party.
Bonosky came to New York in the late 40s, convinced that he could make his most important contributions through writing. He produced his first books in 1953: the steeltown novel Burning Valley (reissued by University of Illinois in 1997) and Brother Bill McKie, about an Auto Workers leader. He held writing workshops at the Communist Party's Jefferson School and in Harlem.
He contributed to the literary journal Masses & Mainstream in the 1950s. His second novel, The Magic Fern, appeared in 1960, followed by Dragon Pink on Old White, on Chinese culture. His long friendship with painter Alice Neel is detailed in Phoebe Hoban's Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty and in Andrew Neel's acclaimed documentary of the artist.
As a journalist, Bonosky interviewed Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in the mid-1960s.
He was cultural editor of the Communist Party's Daily World. Later, Bonosky interviewed Afghan leaders in advance of the Taliban surge and was one of the first Western correspondents to visit Cambodia following the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge. Several volumes of his foreign reportage have been published.
International Publishers issued his short stories in A Bird in Her Hair, in 1987. Bonosky belonged to the board of the journal Political Affairs for many years.
His wife Faith Bonosky and son Daniel Bonosky predeceased him. He is survived by his daughter Nora Bonosky and her husband Daniel Rosenberg; three grandchildren, Celina Rosenberg, Gabriel Rosenberg, and Alex Bonosky; and a great-grandson, Sebastian Bonosky.
Published on NYTimes.com from Mar. 5 to Mar. 6, 2013