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Professor Emeritus James Yaffe Passes Away

Colorado College Professor Emeritus of English James Yaffe died Sunday, June 4, at his home in Denver at the age of 90. He was born in Chicago on March 31, 1927 and moved to New York as a young child.

Jim taught at Colorado College from 1966 until 2002, first as writer-in-residence, then as a full-time member of the English Department. He was a beloved teacher whose classes regularly had long waiting lists; he also taught literature courses on Shakespeare, Shaw, and Chekhov. With English Professors Joan Stone and Jane HIlberry, he co-founded the Creative Writing Track of the English major.

Jim was the author of 11 novels, two short-story collections, and two works of nonfiction. His play “The Deadly Game,” based on a story by the Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt, was produced on Broadway in 1960 and off-Broadway in 1966 and was adapted for television in 1982. A later play, “Cliffhanger,” ran off-Broadway in 1985.

His writing career began early: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine bought one of his short stories when he was just 15. After serving in the U.S. Navy at the close of World War II and earning a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University in 1948, he published his first book – “Poor Cousin Evelyn,” a short-story collection – in 1951. During the 1950s and ’60s, he wrote for television anthology programs such as “The United States Steel Hour” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” while continuing to publish novels and short stories.

In 1966 he wrote “The American Jews,” a nonfiction look at a diverse and vibrant community. A second work of nonfiction titled “So Sue Me!” followed in 1973, telling stories mined from the archives of New York’s Jewish community court.

Jim was a lifelong fan of detective stories, on both the page and the screen, and between 1988 and 1992 he published a four-book mystery series starring a detective known simply as “Mom.” Originally featured in short stories that ran in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the 1950s and ’60s, Mom was a Jewish mother whose crime-solving prowess relied on a bone-deep knowledge of human nature gleaned from years of coping with troublesome neighbors and relatives.

Jim is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Elaine Gordon; three children, Deborah, Rebecca, and Gideon; and three grandchildren, David Yaffe-Bellany, Rachel Yaffe-Bellany, and Oona Yaffe. Funeral services were held Wednesday, June 7 in New York City. Donations may be made to the Elizabethan Club of Yale University.