Publisher says award-winning novelist Kent Haruf, who authored 'Plainsong,' dies at age 71

Writer Kent Haruf, who authored "Plainsong" and several other novels set in small town Colorado, died Sunday at age 71, his publisher said.

Haruf's editor at Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Gary Fisketjon, confirmed Haruf's death. Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards said Haruf had been battling cancer.

During a 1999 interview with The Associated Press, Haruf said that he was a preacher's son who grew up in a family of book lovers. He attended Nebraska Wesleyan University, spent two years in the Peace Corps in Turkey and returned to the United States to fine-tune his fiction at the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop.

"The Tie That Binds," his first novel, was published in 1984, winning a Whiting Writers' Prize and finishing as a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award for first fiction. His next book, "Where You Once Belonged," came out six years later.

Many of Haruf's novels were set in the fictional small town of Holt, Colorado, a composite of the three Colorado towns where the author grew up. Knopf said in a statement Sunday that the town was "one of the truly indelible places in American literature."

"Plainsong" is based in Holt, and its narrative circulates among a variety of local residents. Haruf was an admirer of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio," which has a similar structure.

Haruf would credit the works of Hemingway and Faulkner for changing his life. Hemingway's style inspired Haruf to write cleanly and directly. From Faulkner, Haruf felt he had been granted license to take his stories out of the city.

Haruf was a resident of a Salida, Colorado. He recently completed his sixth novel, "Our Souls at Night," which will be published next year, according to Knopf.