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Sontag's Fight With Leukemia Ends

abstract:Susan Sontag, one of America's most influential intellectuals, author of 17 books translated into 32 languages and internationally renowned for her passionate activism in the cause of human rights, died today at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.


December 28, 2004
— Susan Sontag was born in New York City in 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.

At age 17 while attending the University of Chicago, she met and 10 days later married Philip Rieff, a 28-year-old instructor in social theory. Two years later, she had a son David, now a prominent writer. The marriage lasted nine years and she never remarried.

Diagnosed with advanced breast and systemic lymphatic cancer in 1973 at the age of 43, she was given a one-in-four chance to survive five years. After undergoing a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy, she was pronounced cured. However a uterine sarcoma discovered in 1999 promped more surgery and chemotherapy that left her with the pre-acute leukemia requiring a partial bone marrow transplant.

Despite her health struggle, and when most people would have given over to personal and family preoccupation, she remained an avid human rights activist for more than two decades, traveling to the hotspots of the world: Hanoi, Bosnia Serbia, Cuba; serving as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from 1987 to 1989 a platform from which she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.

Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Art in America, Antaeus, Parnassus, The Threepenny Review, The Nation, Granta, and many other magazines here and abroad.

All her books were published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; four novels

a collection of short stories, I, etcetera; several plays, including Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea; and eight works of nonfiction,


In 1982, FSG published A Susan Sontag Reader

Among Ms. Sontag's many honors are the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the 2003 Prince of Asturias Prize, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize. In 1992 she received the Malaparte Prize in Italy, and in 1999 she was named a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (she had been named an Officier in the same order in 1984). Between 1990 and 1995 she was a MacArthur Fellow.

She is survived by her son, David, and a sister, Judith Cohen.

Her papers — manuscripts, diaries, journals and correspondence — as well as her 25,000-volume personal library were acquired by the UCLA Library in 2002 and will be housed in the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections.

Further Reading & Links

Reading Susan Sontag, Carl Rolyson; (2002) Ivan R. D Publisher. This is the first book to survey the broad range of MS. Sontag's work, including full discussions of her fiction.

Susan Sontag Website

Link to the video interview on The Newshour with Lehrer and Susan Sontag




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