Death of a Rebel: The Charlie Fenton Story
This short and arresting book tells the story of the charismatic Charlie Fenton, a handsome and rebellious writer-teacher who survived two dozen missions as a tail gunner with the RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and 1943 before going AWOL, wrote a prize-winning novel, returned to the States to get married and resume his studies at Yale (where he had been kicked out before the war), zoomed through his B A, MA, and PhD in record time, turned his doctoral thesis into one of the best books ever written about Ernest Hemingway (with whom he conducted a combative correspondence), began to teach American literature and writing to Yale undergraduates, was lured down to Duke by an unprecedented promotion from assistant to full professor, won Guggenheim and ACLS grants, turned out two more books, starred in the classroom, and became one of the most popular instructors on campus among students and manifestly the most troublesome faculty member to the administration though his outspoken attacks on fraternities and football and advocacy of integration and Martin Luther King-inspired sit-down strikes, fell in love with a graduate student leading to the dissolution of his marriage, succumbed to depression, and a few minutes after 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 21, 1960, at forty-one years of age leaped to his death from the top floor of the tallest hotel in Durham, NC. It was the worst thing that ever happened during his fifty-year connection with Duke, said his friend and colleague Reynolds Price.
Fenton was a mentor to many students at Yale and Duke, Donaldson among them. His book attempts to discover what drove someone as successful and admired as Charlie Fenton to take his own life at the peak of his career.