Joseph Leo Blotner was a leading scholar of Southern literature despite his being born in the very northern state of New Jersey. During the course of his impressive career, Blotner wrote biographies on such literary giants as J. D. Salinger and Robert Penn Warren. His most famous work, however, was the two-volume biography of William Faulkner published by Random House in 1974, which was “a new standard” in biography and was praised as “indispensable” by the Chicago Tribune and “magnificent” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Blotner’s life led him from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, to Drew University and then to Germany as an Air Force bombardier during World War II. Blotner’s plane was shot down and he was held in a prisoner-of-war camp for nearly seven months before the camp was liberated in April of 1945. After returning to Drew University and marrying his first wife, Yvonne Wright, Blotner earned a Masters at Northwestern University and a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. He then taught at the University of Idaho, the University of Virginia (where he first met and became friends with Faulkner), the University of North Carolina, and finally the University of Michigan. From 1974 to the early 2000s, Blotner contributed to the Sewanee Review, and his works were reviewed and praised in the quarterly often.
Although his birthplace was in the North, Blotner liked to say that he was “a resident of Yoknapatawpha County in the heart,” and his life’s work would seem to prove that characterization. Described by family, friends, colleagues, and students as gentle, helpful, and always engaging, Blotner will surely be missed. In his fond remembrance of Blotner, Bob Weisbuch writes:
A dedicated husband and father, Joe Blotner was also a friend to great authors and nervous students alike. He served academia brilliantly and his nation bravely. His surviving family members and friends and colleagues could say of him as he said of Faulkner in the biography’s preface, “I will not see his like again.”