“Reynolds Price was doodling on a paper placemat in a Harvard Square cafe on a spring morning in 1992 when he told me about the copy of ‘Paradise Lost’ he had bought for himself five years earlier after surviving extensive treatment for spinal cancer. Price… teaches a course on John Milton at Duke University, but stressed that the thin volume means considerably more to him than love of the great poet’s work.
” ‘Milton as in his early 40s, and I was in my early 50s when we both underwent a physically devastating illness, and in both our lives the experience led to some kind of mysterious renewal of good work,’ he explained. ‘Milton wrote his best books after he lost his sight. I have written 11 books since I had cancer, and it represents some of the very best work I have have ever done.
” ‘My copy of “Paradise Lost” once belonged to Deborah Milton Clarke, the daughter who took Milton’s dictation after he went blind. For me, it was like the apostolic succession. I was touching the hand that touched the hand that touched the Hand.’ ”
— From “A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes and the Eternal Passion for Books” by Nicholas A. Basbanes (1995)
Until his death Jan. 20 at age 77, Price continued to produce novels, essays, poems, plays and children’s books.
Duke today celebrates his life.