Cover photo for C. Michael Curtis's Obituary
C. Michael Curtis Profile Photo
1934 C. 2023

C. Michael Curtis

May 7, 1934 — January 11, 2023

C. Michael Curtis, Editor Emeritus of The Atlantic magazine, died in Spartanburg, South Carolina on January 11, 2023. He was eighty-eight years old.

Michael was a graduate of Cornell University where he did graduate study in political science. After winning the American Poetry Prize, he was asked to work as a reader and later an editor for The Atlantic Monthly, where he remained for over fifty years. In 1982, he became the magazine’s fiction editor. During his more than four decades in that position, he became one of the significant voices in American literature, a champion of new fiction writers who helped jumpstart the careers of such American writers we read today as John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Louise Erdrich, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, Bobbie Ann Mason, Michael Cunningham and many others.

He searched for the integrity of a story, looking for a “story that carried moral weight,” and he faithfully read as many as eighty stories a day while still editing and acquiring articles and excerpts for print. He came to the magazine under the leadership of Edward Weeks and retired under Jeffrey Goldberg. He never saw himself in grandiose terms and freely admitted his mistakes when he turned down stories that he, afterwards, regretted missing. He tried to be honest in his assessment and often wrote personal notes to new writers suggesting how their story could be improved. He taught writing at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and had an ongoing writing workshop from his home in Massachusetts. He also edited several anthologies of short stories including God: Stories, and later Faith: Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin.

He is survived by his wife, the novelist and poet Elizabeth (Betsy) Cox, his brothers Ben Curtis (wife Susan LaCette), and Andrew Curtis, (wife, Beth Lorden), son Hans Curtis, daughter Hilary Curtis Osmer (husband Don Osmer) and grandson DJ Osmer, his stepdaughter Elizabeth Morrow (husband, Brian Morrow) and grandsons Jack Morrow and Nate Morrow, and his stepson Michael Cox (wife, Judy Jensen) and grandchildren Caroline Cox and Andrew Cox. His oldest son, Christopher Curtis, died in 2013.

In 2006, when The Atlantic shifted its offices to Washington, DC, Michael and Betsy moved to Spartanburg, where they both taught writing at Wofford College, sharing the John Cobb Chair created for that purpose in the English department. They taught there for ten years, and Michael continued to edit fiction for The Atlantic during those years.

Michael had a fierce sense of humor, a brilliant mind, and a kind heart. He was a legendary poker player. He worked the New York Times Crossword Puzzle in pen. He was a devoted sports fan, especially the Red Sox, and he adored basketball, a sport he played in pickup games well into his 70s. His nickname on the court was Bear. He will be missed by friends and writers around the world.

A Memorial service will be 2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 29, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church, 393 East Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302, conducted by The Rev. Alan Dyer.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders, ASCPA, or Ukraine relief programs.

Floyd’s North Church Street Chapel

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of C. Michael Curtis, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

First Presbyterian Church (Spartanburg, SC)


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