[Another RPCV, Ed Gruberg, wrote me about Alan Weiss and his thoughts of Alan as a person and a writer.]
I always expected Weiss to become a famous writer. How could he not be? He was smart and witty and was a great storyteller. He had a fine ear and he relished pointing out other people’s flaws. He worked very hard, wrote hours every day. All he had to do was get it down on paper.
In his short life he published very little: one novel; one extended soliloquy to Ibadan that I published in Voyeur, a small magazine I ran; and one scholarly mathematical article on totitives, co-authored with a Yoruba colleague, Victor Olunloyo that was published twice - in an American mathematics journal and a British mathematics journal.
He left unfinished a novel about Nigeria as it unraveled in the sixties. A piece about Malcolm X’s speech at the University of Ibaden was part of that novel and he tried to sell it on his own to various magazines, but nobody was interested. My guess is that Malcolm as a historical figure had already been set in stone. Nobody cared that, despite the hagiography, pre-Mecca Malcolm and post-Mecca Malcolm weren’t all that different.
Weiss had respectable reviews of his novel. Soon after, he was a writer-in-residence for the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. While there he read the Malcolm X piece to “about 100 people and got an electrified response. Rocking response.”
Late one night he drove down from Breadloaf toward town and smashed into a bridge abutment. His van was totaled and he went into a coma. He recovered, seemed normal, but after a few months he became manic. He then became depressed. Nine months later on March 10, 1971 he shot a bullet through his heart.
He was 33.