Lorin Cuoco, who long brought attention to St. Louis writers — while also introducing the city to others internationally known — died Aug. 8 (2019) at home in University City after a long illness. She was 64.
Her collaborations with William H. Gass included “Literary St. Louis” and several other nonfiction books. Passionate about the topic, she once helped organize a tour of literary landmarks. At the time, she told the Post-Dispatch: “It’s a long history here in St. Louis of important literary figures. Our hope is people realize this history and not destroy it.”
But she was not just a booster. Of “Literary St. Louis,” she had said, laughing: “Most everyone who left was very happy to have left. That, in general, is what you come away with.”
Together, Ms. Cuoco and author Gass founded and ran the International Writers Center at Washington University from 1990 to 2001, bringing world-renowned figures such as David Foster Wallace, Ha Jin and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill to town for public readings at the campus.
“Literature was just in her blood,” said Barry Leibman, a friend.
Leibman, a former co-owner of Left Bank Books, described Ms. Cuoco as an “excellent poet” who also loved classical music and opera.
They met in the late 1970s when she came in his Central West End store to order a book. He recognized her as a radio announcer who had an “incredible voice.” “It was mellifluous,” Leibman said.
Although born in San Antonio, Texas, Lorin Jean Cuoco grew up in Lebanon, Illinois. Her father was in the Air Force, and her mother, an artist, often drew illustrations for a military magazine.
Ms. Cuoco left home to attend St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but during her sophomore year, her mother died. Ms. Cuoco came home to take care of her younger sister and enrolled in Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. (She would later earn a master’s degree from St. John’s, known for its Great Books curriculum.)
As a student, she was script supervisor and had a bit part in a 1977 locally produced movie, “Stingray.” Ms. Cuoco, who had one line as a “mean waitress,” met her husband-to-be, the movie’s assistant director, during the production. She and John Fowler married in 1982.
After graduating from SIUE with a mass communications degree, Ms. Cuoco took a job with KWMU, where she worked until 1989 at a number of positions, including announcer, arts reporter and operations manager.
Her employment was interrupted at one point because she quit when the station stopped running national programming she thought was important, Fowler said: “She would not stand for something she didn’t believe in.”
Leibman agreed, saying: “What she did, she believed in. She had integrity about everything she did.” He pointed out that she met Salman Rushdie in Colorado when he was in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared a fatwa on the British writer. Ms. Cuoco was a founding member of the Rushdie Defense Committee in the U.S.
Ms. Cuoco had known William Gass while they both served on the board of the River Styx literary organization. When the Washington University professor became director of the International Writers Center, he knew he wanted Ms. Cuoco for his associate director. Later, in a letter of recommendation, he gave her much credit for the center’s success.
Gass, who died in 2017, had been a mentor, close friend and collaborator. Ms. Cuoco edited six books with him, including “A Temple of Texts, “The Writer in Politics” and “The Dual Muse: the Writer as Artist, the Artist as Writer.”
“She was so close to Bill,” her husband said. She produced Gass’ audiobook version of “The Tunnel,” a 650-page novel that he read and recorded himself. “It was a monster project,” Fowler said.
In addition to her planning events and bringing in authors, Ms. Cuoco brought the area’s literary community together, in effect, by creating the St. Louis Literary Calendar, drawing attention to poetry readings, open mic nights, contests and other programs.
After leaving the writers center (in 2003 it became the Center for the Humanities), Ms. Cuoco spent years helping the St. Louis Poetry Center with publicity and programming.
Fowler said she had written two books of poetry herself but never focused on seeking a publisher. Her papers, including correspondence with writers, will go to the Washington University Libraries collection.
In addition to her husband, Ms. Cuoco is survived by her father, Leonard Cuoco of Belleville; two sisters, Leslie Missey of Belleville and Rachel Vollmer of St. Louis; and several nieces and nephews. There will be no public services.