Shirley Ann Grau, Louisiana author who won Pulitzer Prize, dead at 91

Author Shirley Ann Grau dead at 91

KENNER, La. — Shirley Ann Grau, a Louisiana author who explored issues of race and gender in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Keepers of the House,” died Monday night. She was 91.

Grau died at Inspired Living in Kenner, Louisiana, her daughter, Nora F. McAlister, told The Times-Picayune. Complications from a stroke were the cause of death, the newspaper reported.

Grau wrote six novels and four short story collections that examined the racial prejudices of white Southerners and the limited opportunities afforded to women, The Washington Post reported. “The Keepers of the House,” which won Grau the Pulitzer in 1965, featured an interracial marriage between a wealthy white man and his Black housekeeper in rural Alabama.

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That was a scenario that angered some readers, according to the Times-Picayune. Grau received threatening telephone calls and a cross was burned on the front lawn of her Metairie, Louisiana, home by the Ku Klux Klan, the newspaper reported. She was not at home, however, as she and her family were vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard.

The Klansmen forgot to bring a shovel, however, and had to lay the burning cross on the lawn, the newspaper reported.

“It all had kind of a Groucho Marx ending to it,” Grau said at the time.

Grau hung up on the Pulitzer Prize official who called to tell her “The Keepers of the House” had won the award, WWL-TV reported.

“When a newsman telephoned her early in the afternoon (about the award), she reacted in disbelief: ‘This must be a practical joke,’” the Times-Picayune reported on May 4, 1965.

It was no joke.

A telegram from Columbia University and a phone call from her publisher confirmed what Grau did not believe, WWL reported.

According to the Post, Grau was a “quiet force” in 20th century Southern literature. According to Alison Graham-Bertolini, a North Dakota State University professor of English and women and gender studies. Grau wrote “with a beautiful eye for detail and an incredible ability to immerse readers in her fictional communities.”

Grau was born July 8, 1929, in New Orleans and grew up in Mobile, Alabama, The New York Times reported. She attended Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.

In 1950, she graduated with honors from Newcomb College, the Times-Picayune reported.

Her first book, “The Black Prince and Other Stories,” was published in 1954 when she was 26.

“She was fiercely independent and extremely private,” McAlister told the Times-Picayune. “She thought the term ‘eccentric’ was a positive one. To her, it meant you had the courage to follow your instincts, your dreams, your goals.”