I was deeply saddened by the passing of Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. last month. I knew Charlie from the California Writer’s Club that we have both attended for many years. Charlie was a quiet, steady presence who was always interested and engaged in what was happening around him. He was generous in his encouragement and compliments, while always very humble about his own writing successes, as he was about his accomplishments and his brother.
What most impressed me was that he would never be drawn into compromising his work or cutting corners. He once said that it will take as long as it will take and if he didn’t finish it, then that was how it was meant to be. I guess his words were prophetic.
I hope he is up there in the great writer’s group in the sky, sitting with the greatest and working on his book. Those heavenly writers will enjoy his company as much as we did in the basement of the Oakland Public Library.
Below is his obituary.
Charlie Louis Russell, Jr.
March 10, 1932-June 28, 2013
Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. was born March 10, 1932 in West Monroe, LA. His parents, Charlie Russell, Sr. and Katie Russell, were hardworking, industrious, and ran a tight ship. They had a wood-burning stove and no indoor plumbing. He and his younger brother, William “Bill” Russell, spent days shooting BB guns, hunting birds, and going to the movies. The “Spy Masher” serial was a favorite. Charlie loved his mom’s cooking, especially her stuffed bell peppers and banana pudding.
Katie emphasized education. After discovering that Charlie had not learned to read in grade school, she insisted that he be held back. Katie spent the summer reviewing lessons with him, making sure he could read before the new school year.
In the 1940s, in search of a better life, the family moved to Oakland. Charlie attended Cole Elementary and Hoover Jr. High. Before she died, Katie used someone else’s address so he could go to Oakland Tech High, which she believed would better prepare him for college.
Charlie attended Santa Rosa JC. He was briefly married to Donna Diston. Their son Michael was born in 1950 (d. 2000). In the Army (1953-1955) Charlie was stationed in Korea. He returned and went to U.S.F., majored in English and was on the 1957 basketball team that reached the NCAA final four.
The Russell family’s westward migration was highlighted in Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns.
After college, Charlie moved to New York, married Tanya Johnson and they had a daughter, Katheryn (1961). He joined the Harlem Writers’ Guild and published several well-received pieces. His play, “Five on the Black Hand Side,” appeared off-Broadway and was made into a movie (1973). Charlie won an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for writing the screenplay.
He earned an MSW degree from N.Y.U. in 1966 and was a counselor at City College.
Charlie loved jazz. Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington were his favorites.
He returned to the Bay Area in 1978 and taught drama at Contra Costa College. In the mid-1980s he moved to San Diego where he was a social worker. He moved back to the East Bay to manage the care of his father and worked for Ala. County Child Protective Services.
His final writing project was a novel based on Toussaint L’Ouverture’s life.
He leaves to cherish his memory daughter, Katheryn Russell-Brown (Kevin Brown), son, Joshua Russell, grandchildren, Louis Brown and Sasha Brown, special friend Sandra Johnson, ex-wife Tanya Russell, and many, many other family members and friends.
Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.