In January 2013 the New York Times public editor wrote a column discussing how front page obituaries in 2012 “became something less than a rarity.” According to Margaret Sullivan the total number of front page obituaries for 2012 was 30, or less than ten percent of all front pages that year. While still a small number, it more than doubled any year in the previous decade and the average of 10-12 a year. Last year, a seemingly terrible year for prominent deaths, the Times still only published 29 front page obituaries. Even with an increase from five years ago, receiving a front page obituary in the Times signifies the recently deceased more than likely contributed a priceless amount to society over their lifetime.
On Saturday Russian poet Yeygeny Yevtushenko died in Tulsa. Yevtushenko rose to prominence in the 1960s as one of the prominent critics of Soviet polices, albeit one who worked within the system. As the Times noted in their front page obituary, Yevtushenko, while controversial with some for not outright opposing Soviet policies, “inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War.” His poems such as Babi Yar are hallmarks of 20th century Russian literature, well-known around the world, and he earned prominent obituaries in publications and broadcasts around the world.
It’s shocking then that someone so internationally renowned and culturally significant as Yevtushenko would not earn a front-page obituary in his adopted hometown newspaper. Beginning in 1993 Yevtushenko began teaching courses at the University of Tulsa and spent a large portion of the last 25 years in a city he called “the bellybutton of world culture” and “very American.” Yet for all his contributions to Tulsa and its academic and literary community, he earned nothing more than an outsourced Associated Press obituary tucked on page six and barely gained a mention on the paper’s website. In contrast the World devoted one of four front page stories to coverage of changes to their comics section.
Tulsa and the University of Tulsa were blessed to have such a significant contributor to 20th century culture make his home in Oklahoma for the past two and a half decades. More importantly the knowledge and expertise he passed on to students at the University of Tulsa will continue long after his death. It’s a true shame no one at the Tulsa World could be bothered to acknowledge the significance of his passing.