David Perlman (1918 – 2020)

David Perlman at the Community of Writers, 1974  .(Photo by Barbara E. Hall)

David Perlman, the last of the three founders of our conference, has died, at the age of 101, in San Francisco. Fifty years ago here, editor Blair Fuller and novelist Oakley Hall were regularly spending their summers in the Valley, and David Perlman had a house here, too. It was a small village at the time, and people met up. Oakley had made a great reputation as a novelist; Blair Fuller was an editor at The Paris Review, and the three of them decided to have some fun inventing a week-long summer writers conference. Anne Perlman – who preceded her husband in death by two decades – was a serious, accomplished poet, who had been very respectably published, and in the early days she worked on the Poetry program with Galway Kinnell and Phil Levine and Mark Strand.

Originally a New Yorker, graduate of Columbia, David fell in love with San Francisco early, and migrated early. His first job on the West Coast was as a copyboy at the Chronicle. That was 1940. After WW II military service, he spent some time in Paris and New York, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, but soon devised a way back to San Francisco, where he got hired at the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter.

He retired from the paper only three years ago, at 98, having worked full-time all those years. He kept arduous regular hours even deep into his 90s, spoke until the end with sharp wit and a rich understanding of the world, and even walked with a spring in his step. On his last day at the Chronicle, he decided to allow himself the unprecedented luxury of leaving fifteen minutes ahead of time, and went to his editor’s office to say he was going to “slide early.” But he was of course noticed slipping out, and everybody in the newsroom got to their feet applauding.

David and Anne gave up their house in Olympic Valley at some point. After that they seldom came up to the workshop, but he always thought of this organization as one of his happiest achievements. The thing he loved most, which kept him at his desk in San Francisco, was explaining science to readers. Elucidating our tectonic jolts, AIDS, moonshots, climate change, he earned a reputation over the years as a “dean of science journalism,” having resolved in his twenties that science journalism was “the most glamorous thing in the world.”

The last story he filed for the Chronicle was a typically long piece (the Chronicle always gave him plenty of space, all he wanted), explaining the total eclipse of eclipse of the sun.

Daylight will turn to midnight. The summer air will turn chilly,
birds will chirp uneasily in the unexpected darkness and the
stars will emerge.









Read the San Francisco Chronicle’s appreciation for David Perlman.