JAMES YAFFE

Obituary
  • "I love his fiction and use his story "The Refugees" in my..."
    - Felicia NImue Ackerman
  • "So very sorry to hear about Jim's death. As his cousin, I..."
    - Bob Smith
  • "I took a two-block course with Professor Yaffe in the late..."
    - Keller Kimbrough
  • "Although I never met him, James Yaffe has been a presence..."
    - Josh Pachter
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YAFFE--James,

a college professor and writer whose fiction and non-fiction chronicled the lives of American Jews in the 20th century, died June 4 at his residence in Denver, CO. He was 90. Yaffe was the author of 11 novels, two short-story collections and two works of non-fiction. His play "The Deadly Game," based on a story by the Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt, was produced on Broadway in 1960 and off Broadway in 1966 and was adapted for television in 1982. A later play, "Cliffhanger," ran off-Broadway in 1985. From 1966 until 2002, Yaffe taught English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. When he retired, generations of former students sent tributes to his thoughtful, rigorous and inspiring teaching of both literature and creative writing. "He always treated me as if my ideas mattered," wrote one. "A teacher who changed my life and made it unimaginably richer," said another. James Yaffe was born in Chicago on March 31, 1927, but grew up in New York. His writing career began early: "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine" bought one of his short stories when he was just 15. After serving in the U.S. Navy at the close of World War II and earning a bachelor's degree summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University in 1948, he published his first book-- "Poor Cousin Evelyn," a short-story collection--in 1951. During the 1950s and 60s, he wrote for television anthology programs like "The United States Steel Hour" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" while continuing to publish fiction. In 1966, he wrote "The American Jews," a non-fiction look at a diverse and vibrant community; a second work of non-fiction, "So Sue Me!" -- which told stories mined from the archives of New York's Jewish community court -- followed in 1973. Among his later works were a series of mystery novels featuring a detective called Mom, a Jewish mother who solved crimes using her bone-deep knowledge of human nature. Yaffe is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Elaine Gordon; three children, Deborah, Rebecca and Gideon; and three grandchildren, David Yaffe-Bellany, Rachel Yaffe-Bellany and Oona Yaffe. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Elizabethan Club of Yale University.

Published in The New York Times on June 7, 2017