Lee McCarthy

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Lee McCarthy Lee McCarthy, a poet and writer who taught the school children of Kern County for more than three decades and then spent the latter part of her life bringing world class poetry to Bakersfield, died on March 21 at the age of 70. A native of Arkansas, she attended the University of Tennessee, where she met a struggling writer named Cormac McCarthy who asked her to marry him. They moved to a shack with no heat and running water in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville. There they had a son, Cullen, in 1962. While caring for the baby and tending to the chores of the house, Lee was asked by Cormac to also get a day job so he could focus on his novel writing. Dismayed with the situation, she moved to Wyoming, where she filed for divorce and landed her first job teaching. After two years, she moved to the Bakersfield area in 1966 and began teaching in McFarland. She left to obtain her Masters Degree at San Francisco State University and then returned to Kern County. For the next 31 years, she was a fixture at Wasco Union High School, teaching teenagers and eventually their children about the great works of literature. Lee was an adamant defender of the right to free expression. She led a landmark censorship case against the school district, a case still cited in Educational law. In 1993, she received the Arts Council of Kern, Individual Arts Educator Award. She was a recognized writer and poet receiving a Stegner Fellowship to Stanford University in 1975. She was co-recipient of the Nicholas Roerich prize in poetry in 1991 for her collection, Desire's Door, and the winner of the Ion Books National Chapbook Competition in 1992 for Combing Hair with a Seashell. Three books of her poems have been published: Desire's Door, Combing Hair with a Seashell and Good Girl. Her work appeared in a variety of reviews and publications including Orpheus, Great River Review, Solo, Third Coast, Daybreak, Pangolin, High Plains Literary Review, Raccoon, Arizona Literary Magazine, Burnt Sienna and Intro 8. In later years, she organized and funded a poetry reading series in Bakersfield that brought some of the most respected poets in the nation to town including Ted Kooser, Frank Bidart, Richard Shelton and Philip Levine. She was a single mother raising a child at a time when it was an exception. She was tough because she had to be. Underneath, she was as gracious, as giving and as funny as they come. She is survived by her sister, her son and her two grandchildren. No Services.

This obituary was originally published in the Bakersfield Californian.
Published online on Mar. 29, 2009 courtesy of Bakersfield Californian.
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