Michael malone

Michael Malone

Author Michael Malone died Friday, Aug. 19, at his home in Connecticut

In my two-plus years of coming to Hillsborough, I never met Michael Malone. His prolonged bout with cancer had dramatically reduced his social interactions and book releases. An author’s new book is often an opportunity for me to meet, write about, and become familiar with them.

I learned of his passing very late Friday night, and knew I would need to pull together an announcement to put in the paper and online. I began — and I apologize to every one for this — with Wikipedia.

Michael Malone was born in 1942, in Durham. He was well-known and successful as the head writer for the daytime soap opera One Life To Live, earning critical acclaim for envelope-pushing storylines. From 1992 to 1996, Malone received four Daytime Emmy nominations in the Best Writing category, winning the award in 1994.

He wrote 14 works of fiction, including “Handling Sin,” “Dingley Falls,” and “First Lady.” He also wrote a collection of short stories, two nonfiction books, and multiple plays, musicals, and scripts. He was presented with the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the O.Henry Award for his writing.

Malone at time worked as a professor at several colleges and universities, including teaching English and theater at Duke University.

He was married for 47 years, to Maureen Quilligan, also an author and professor at Duke University.

The site goes on, but falls well short of capturing this human being.

Sharon Wheeler, who owns Purple Crow Books in downtown Hillsborough, faithfully alerts me to upcoming releases from local authors, and somehow managed to mention Malone each time, whether or not the connection to him was obvious to me. She loved what he meant to the community and what the community meant to him. 

“Allan Gurganus has a new book coming out,” Wheeler would share. “He and Michael Malone are good friends. Michael is a wonderful person and an amazing writer.”

All true statements. Gurganus knew of and enjoyed Malone’s work before Malone moved to Hillsborough a little more than two decades ago, and he welcomed him with a a subscription to the News of Orange County, “so he would have a sense of where he’d landed and get a sense of possibilities of the people who were here.”

Where he was was a small town in the south, where people knew each other, and apparently knew the shortest path to Malone’s heart.

“Michael was one of those people who was a perpetual talent scout,” Gurganus said. “He was always finding children in the community who were extremely gifted and should be encouraged, and he always managed to find a way to build people's confidence in themselves, enlarge their sense of possibility.”

Writers are often ill-fitting or just slightly out-of-place, and there is at least a shadow of stereotype for many of them to be reclusive, wanting to get away, to be alone with their thoughts and writing tools. But Malone welcomed the sunlight, open windows, open doors, and guided others with him into the spotlight.

“He had the most outgoing personality, I think of anyone I've ever known,” said author Lee Smith. “It's because he was absolutely interested in other people. You can see that through his work, through all of his writing, too. He was fascinated and interested in other people, open to everybody. The minute he moved to a new town, he just made it his work to get to know as many people as he possibly could, and to be a real part of it.”

Malone often wrote about small towns, and what better way to collect information for his writing than to absorb its residents, its places, traditions, and passions.

“He was open to all kinds of people and all kinds of lives and information,” Smith continued.

Malone loved his community. He took pride in it and kept it in shape. He gave all he could, and he probably coaxed more out of the community than it thought possible.

“Malone was a source of light and joy to so many in Hillsborough,” said the town’s Mayor Jenn Weaver. “He gave of himself so generously to our community. The time and talent he brought to local events and efforts played a powerful role in fostering Hillsborough’s far reaching reputation as a  literary and arts hub. Yet most importantly, from what I have heard from others, he made those in his orbit feel special and loved. He also wrote the funniest book I’ve ever read. He will be sorely missed.”

“He believed so thoroughly in community and that at its best, life should be a feast where everybody is invited,” said Elizabeth Matheson, a longtime Hillsborough resident and award-winning photographer. “And they come and they're just the best songs and they make joyful noises and together make something grand. That's what he did in Hillsborough. He put his heart and soul into making Hillsborough a town where the magic really seemed to happen on a fairly regular basis.”

Malone was a multi-dimensional magic-maker, pulling rabbits out of books, from songs, and on stage. He was Harold Hill from “The Music Man,” if Harold had been genuine and come through with the goods. His exuberance for a play to write and act out was a joyful contagion, infecting many unsuspecting locals.

“He induced — directed and called, which we liked — many of us over the years to amateur theatrics,” said Steven Burke, another longtime friend and fan of Malone’s, “for which at Burnside (his and Maureen’s house for 20 years) or at St. Matthew’s we brought about a number, including “The Little Foxes” (he and I played the bad brothers in the unlovely family), “Guys and Dolls” (twice), “The Music Man,” and his own play “The Way She Died,” a complex merging of suspense, mirth, and tutored psychology.  His annual performance with Allan Gurganus — exuberant and not understated a take — of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” delighted full houses for 16 years at St. Matthews’ and raised money for the Burwell School as well.”

Not long after meeting each other, Malone and Gurganus realized a mutual fondness for the writings of Charles Dickens. 

“Once we were talking about “A Christmas Carol,” (we) decided to write our own version of it, a two-man performable version,” Gurganus said. “I played Scrooge and he played all the Christmas Past, Present, and Future. We were offered the altar at St Matthews, which was the perfect place to perform it. It gave us a lot of pleasure, and the ticket money all went to local charities.”

The performance grew more elaborate and hilarious each year, with audience members used as characters, and onstage costume changes.

One year, a winter storm threatened to cancel the performance, as Hillsborough’s icy streets were empty just before showtime. Gurganus and Malone, who were already at St. Matthews, rang the church’s bells to let the town know they were there and ready to perform for anyone who made the trip. Gurganus said people began walking and arriving with ski poles.

“Fifty people appeared out of nowhere and to celebrate Christmas,” he said. “Charles Dickens would have enjoyed it. It was magical. Really very beautiful.”

Malone was a person whose love for entertaining bore not an ounce of weight or resistance. A body of work that would exhaust most, seemed only to propel him. And he was just as likely to create a role in his book or play just for you.

“Michael loved to put on a show more than anybody else in the world,” Lee Smith said. “Even when he would have a party or something, he'd say it's gonna be a ‘black-and-white party.’ You have to come in formal attire, you have to wear black and white, or you have to do this. You have to do that. He just loved it. He was in show business.

“We will not see his like again,” she continued. “We will not ever know anyone like him again. When I envision him now, I always see him in a tuxedo, and hosting all of us, with the doors wide open.”

Gurganus, who is one of Hillsborough’s most well-known writers — and who also favors small-town settings for his stories — said he’s never included Malone in any of his works, “verbatim.”

“But in every small town there's a single household that encourages other people do their best work and a house that lends out books, has concerts, welcomes the neighbors. Michael and Maureen had lots of concerts and benefits and events at their house. It seemed to be the town's community hangout, as well as their private residence,” he said.

“When I think about the loss of Michael,” Gurganus said, “he was so many people and treated people with such decency, and had so many gifts. You’re not sure which Michael to mourn. You feel like you’re losing more than one person.”

Elizabeth Matheson said when Michael Malone came to Hillsborough, “he brought a circus with him.” And now that he’s left, the emptiness has revealed the size and depth of his presence. Hillsborough is reminded of the number of nights and afternoons it went to that circus to find entertainment and pure joy. There’s a certain chilly and overcast feeling to the days after the circus moves on. But Michael Malone — who I never met, but now know — left successful in making all of his communities better. 

Malone is survived by his wife of 47 years, Maureen Quilligan; daughter Maggie and her husband Matt; a sister, a brother, a half-sister a half-brother; nieces and nephews, and his 6-year-old granddaughter Maisie. A public viewing will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday at Swan Funeral Home in Clinton, Connecticut. A second public viewing will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28. at Walker’s Funeral Home on Churton Street in Hillsborough. His funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough. Malone will be buried in the church’s cemetery.