BU Today

In the World

Robert B. Parker Dies at Writing Desk

Papers reside at Gotlieb Center


Robert B. Parker wrote without notes, without outlines, without even a story line in his head. He would start each book, he told Bostonia magazine in 2005, with an opening premise, hoping it would lead to chapter two and hoping chapter two would lead to chapter three. Inevitably it did, and over 37 years, it led to 65 books.

Parker (GRS’57,’71), who had donated his papers and drafts to BU’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, died of a heart attack on January 18 while sitting at his writing desk in his Cambridge home. He was 77.

Parker pounded out 37 witty and eloquent adventures of his most popular and well-known character: a private eye named Spenser, who became the central character of the TV series Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich. Another character, Jesse Stone, the protagonist in nine books, was played by Tom Selleck in a series of television movies. And his 2005 western, Appaloosa, was made into a movie starring Ed Harris.

Parker’s association with Boston University ran long and deep. He earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English here. His doctoral thesis, The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage, and Urban Reality: A Study of the Private Eye in the Novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, is in the collection at Mugar Memorial Library.

“I was desperately trying to get my Ph.D. by the time I turned 40,” Parker told Bostonia in 2007. “I made it, by just about a year. The actual writing of my doctoral dissertation took about two weeks — I know there are people who have been working on their thesis since 1918 who’ll want to shoot me for saying that. But I don’t get better by taking my time. My second draft is not an improvement, so I don’t do one. So in the summer of 1971 I went to the cellar of a BU building, and a woman took my diploma out of a box and handed it to me.”

In 2007, Parker gave his papers and drafts to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. “They were piling up in my cellar,” Parker explained. “It’s also true that the Gotlieb is rather widely known, so I said yes. The deal was that they could have the material if they’d come and take it away.”

Read more about Robert B. Parker (GRS’57,’71) here.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.


9 Comments on Robert B. Parker Dies at Writing Desk

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 9:40 am

    A Big Loss for the Fiction World

    Mr. Parker’s was the first detective fiction I read (and the first public library book I borrowed in the States) and none of the authors that I’ve added over the years has kept my interest as much as he did. I’ll miss his sharp witty prose.

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 11:04 am

    Robert B., Robert B. Tell me

    Robert B., Robert B.
    Tell me a story
    Robert B.

    How could you leaves us, Robert B.?

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 11:47 am

    Not the plot twist I would wish for

    We have lost a friend.

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you Robert Parker for all the pleasant hours you have provided us. If only you could have had more hours here with us. I will sorely miss anticipating your next work.

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 1:43 pm

    I will truly miss Mr. Parker. I loved the sense of humor and innuendo in his books. No more Spenser, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone. What am I to do?

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 1:58 pm

    I just could not believe it when I hear about Robert B. Parker’s death. Such a great writer.I’m going to miss reading his books

    his books were the first detective fiction books I read, what a great loss of a good writer

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 2:03 pm

    Farewell to an old Friend I'd never met

    So sorry to learn of Mr. Parker’s passing. “Early Autumn” was required reading in my Freshman Psych class at Boston University back in 1986. Thanks to the refined taste of that professor I was introduced to Parker’s work. I’ve read every Spenser novel, some of them twice.

    Spenser helped people who needed it. He stuck his neck out to find the truth, or balance the scales, and remained loyal to his friends and loved ones. He was a man’s man, had style, wit, brawn, and class. He was an astute observer of the human condition. When someone needed an ass whooping, he delivered. When someone needed help, he gave it.

    In my humble opinion, Parker was one of the finest American novelists of the last 30 years! He will be sorely missed.

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2010 at 2:23 pm

    Loss of Robert B. Parker

    This is a sad day in the writing world of fiction. His work was so clever and entertaining. I mourn.

  • Steve on 01.22.2010 at 9:23 am

    Robert Parker

    Despite Mr. Parker’s obvious dislike of some facets of academia (see the first chapter of his first novel, with many other examples to follow), it’s good to see BU will have his papers and drafts (probably not too many of the latter!)

Post Your Comment

(never shown)