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Shirley Ann Grau, Metairie author who won Pulitzer Prize for fiction, dies at 91

Grau won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for her novel "The Keepers of the House," one of six novels and four collections of short stories she wrote during her career
Credit: AP
American author Shirley Ann Grau at her home in Metairie June 19, 1965 when she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for her book "The Keepers of the House." (AP Photo)

KENNER, La. — Shirley Ann Grau, a Metairie author who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1965 for her novel “The Keepers of the House,” died Monday. She was 91.

Her death was first reported by John Pope of The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. Grau's daughter Nora F. McAlister confirmed the death, telling the newspaper her mother died at a Kenner health care facility of complications from a stroke.

During her fifty-year career, Grau wrote six novels, four collections of short stories and a teleplay. Her first book was published in 1956.

Her books and stories, often set in New Orleans and the South, frequently focused on serious topics such as race relations and family conflict. Notable works included “The House on Coliseum Street” and “The Condor Passes."

In 1965, Grau famously hung up on the Pulitzer Prize official who called to tell her "The Keepers of the House" had won the honor. "When a newsman telephoned her early in the afternoon (about the award), she reacted in disbelief: ‘This must be a practical joke,’” wrote Roddy Paul in the May 4, 1965 Times-Picayune.

During the interview, Paul said Grau received a telegram making it official from Columbia University, which oversees the Pulitzer Prizes. A call from her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, later made it official.

At the time of the honor, the newspaper described her as “a young well-spoken Metairie housewife” and mother.

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Born July 8, 1929 in New Orleans, Grau spent her childhood here and in Alabama. She graduated from Ursuline Academy then studied English literature at Tulane University’s Newcomb College, where she graduated with honors in 1950. She said she turned to writing full-time after Tulane wouldn’t accept her as graduate student. She withdrew when the English department chairman said he wouldn’t hire women as teaching assistants.

She didn't enter graduate school, but she did meet her future husband, James K. Feibleman, at Tulane, where he worked as a philosophy professor. A friend who was taking Feibleman's class connected him with Grau, sharing some of her short stories with him. They were married in 1955. 

Feibleman died in 1987.

Survivors include two daughters, two sons and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.