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Associate professor who helped build Columbia’s creative writing program dies at 56

Don De Grazia (Photo courtesy of Columbia College Chicago).

Don De Grazia, associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department died on June 13 at 56 years old.


De Grazia, who was also a Columbia alum, helped build the creative writing program and served as coordinator. He was the author of the novel “American Skin.”


His stories also have appeared in Chicago After Dark, The Chicago Reader, TriQuarterly, and in 2014, his story “Black Was Missing” appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review’s special Chicago Issue. 


In 2000, he talked to the Chicago Reader about his experience with “American Skin,” published in the U.K. in 1998. A year later the coming-of-age novel about the skinhead movement was published in the U.S. by Scribner.


This past spring De Grazia, a former factory worker, bouncer and soldier, according to his author bio, taught “Craft and Process Seminar in Fiction: Fiction Writers and Censorship” and “Fiction Workshop: Intermediate.” He also had attended Manifest.


He taught at Columbia for several decades and earned his bachelor’s and master’s at the college. 


Interim Chair of the English and Creative Writing Department Jeanne Petrolle said that De Grazia was a strong partner and leader.


“He was also very wise. Things just come up in college life that are difficult to deal with and I knew I could go to him and I could always count on a very calm, thoughtful, measured, wise response,” she said.


Petrolle emphasized that De Grazia was also very humble.


De Grazia coordinated opportunities for students such as the Writers at Lunch event series, designed for writers to get more comfortable with reading their work in front of a crowd.


Petrolle said that while De Grazia’s work was important, he will also be remembered as a family man and a “wonderful friend.”


Associate professor in the English and Creative writing department Hilary Sarat-St. Peter described De Grazia as a “gentle soul without an ounce of mendacity.”


A memorial visitation will be held at Simkins Funeral Home in Morton Grove outside of Chicago at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 22. The memorial service will begin at 3 p.m. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.


De Grazia is survived by his wife, Siera, and daughter Daisy Elia.

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Sydney Richardson
Sydney Richardson, Reporter
srichardson@columbiachronicle.com   Sydney Richardson is a sophomore journalism major, concentrating in broadcasting for radio. She is minoring in voiceover. Richardson has reported on campus and metro events, as well as changes to Columbia's Student Life and Residence Life departments of the college. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Woodridge, Illinois