In Memoriam: Gerald Rosen, Professor Emeritus of English

Gerald Rosen, professor emeritus of English at Sonoma State University and a writer who probed the topsy turvy nature of American culture, died Friday at his San Francisco home. He was 71 years old.

Rosen was remembered Tuesday as a big-hearted man known for his humor -- he could easily slip into the thickest of Bronx accents -- and his one-liners. Others described Rosen as a writer whose take on American culture could be both irreverent and piercing.

"He took a lot of sacred cows and kind of lanced them a little bit, but never in a mean spirited way," said Gerald Haslam, a friend and former SSU colleague.

Rosen's first novel, Blues for Dying Nation, was published in 1972. Sprinkled with newspaper clippings and set on an imaginary Army base, it was a surrealistic exploration of power at a time of cultural upheaval.

Raised in the Bronx, he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School then attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, receiving a bachelors degree in electrical engineering. He decided he didn't like that field, and went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he received an MBA in 1962. He was chosen for the Boeing Executive of the Futures Program and went to work for the company in Seattle, Wa. But, said his wife, he didn't like that either.

Rosen then joined the Army. He rose to the rank of Captain and, by 1964, was commanding a medics company. He left the Army after three years and returned to the University of Pennsylvania, earning his Ph.D in American history and literature in 1969. His return to the civilian world was a pivotal point in Rosen's life. He moved to Greenwich Village -- then the counterculture epicenter of the East Coast -- explored Eastern philosophy, experimented with LSD and protested the war.

And he started writing seriously.

Rosen moved to Marin County in the early 1970s, then to Sonoma County when he joined the SSU faculty. He led the school's fiction writing program for 25 years.

In 2009, Rosen published a memoir, Cold Eye, Warm Heart: A Novelist's Search for Meaning. At its close, he is driving in a rusty Volkswagon beetle toward San Francisco, listening to Santana on an eight-track. His penultimate sentence: "I was glad about what I had done, and I was sure that my life was going to be a beautiful trip while it lasted."

In addition to his wife, Rosen is survived by a son, Jesse Saunt, of Rock Creek, Ohio. Services are private.

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