Our longtime friend Jake Euker died Friday at the tragically young age of 50, a victim of pneumonia and the way life works out sometimes.
Jake was an outstanding writer and a first rate wit, an astute reader, movie-watcher and music-listener, always meticulously careful with the English language and dangerously reckless with his own well-being, and he was an effortlessly strange fellow and an invaluable contributor to the cultural life of an old-fashioned prairie community that he so dearly and inexplicably loved.
More importantly, Jake was a good friend. For more than 30 years he provided us with hearty laughs and wild times whenever possible, and was a source of sympathy and compassion whenever necessary.
To tell a little more about his remarkable life, and with hopes that he wouldn’t mind, we proudly publish the following autobiographical sketch that Jake shared with us many years ago:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jake Euker was born and raised in Hutchinson, Kansas. He relocated to New York City at age thirteen, where he attended law school at Fordham University. He left school two years later to pursue his passion for poetry, a quest that resulted in the publication of his first collection, Things I Left Up to My Mom, in 1980, when the author was only sixteen years old, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Adventures With Sticky later that same year. Adventures With Sticky was also selected as a Brandeis University Creative Arts Citation in Poetry finalist. Mr. Euker’s subsequent poems appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Grand Street, The Selected Writings of Guillame Apollonaire and the film “Top Gun.” His poem “Photo of Nut Trees” was included in the Best Short Stories 1981 anthology, an honor rarely accorded verse.
Mr. Euker entered Yale as a freshman in 1983, graduating from Harvard summa cum laude only eighteen months later. Upon graduation he was the recipient of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship and the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Award. In 1984, at age seventeen, Mr. Euker underwent a much-publicized sex change operation, becoming a twenty-nine-year-old woman named Phyllis who never really trusted her mom. The move won Ms. Euker the coveted Orlando Life Achievement Prize. Influenced by such works as Nancy Friday’s My Mother/My Self, Ms. Euker became a visual artist and spent the next seven months in isolation, brooding. She developed a passion for romance novels and, subsequently, men nine to twelve years older than herself who were always wealthy and handsome, and often tall. These men were given to volatile moodiness, while remaining very loving and tender, and usually had British-sounding or compound last names. Ms. Euker’s lifestyle during this period won her the “Like a Virgin” Award for Wicked Immorality and, conversely, the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It was also this period that produced the now-legendary “Hero” series of canvasses, paintings which later provided the substance of the infamous 1985 opening at the Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan’s Soho district, and for which — despite popular belief — no formal charges were ever brought against Ms. Euker herself. Her romance novels of this period, written under the name July Prentiss, have sold over seventeen million copies and have been translated into most known tongues. Autumn and Forgiveness, her last romance, was selected by NASA for inclusion in its American Tribute ™ Intergalactic Culture Capsule, slated for launch in 1991.
In 1985 Ms. Euker was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire — an unheard of honor for a transsexual Kansas native — and two weeks later underwent a second sex change, this time becoming a man. The author’s hospital visitors included such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado, Mother Teresa, Season Hubley and Queen Elizabeth II. After recovery, Mr. Euker eschewed what he called the “visualness” of painting, renounced his own works, and became a stage actor, making his first appearance as Pendel in an off-off-Broadway production of “Grrt.” In 1986 he appeared on Broadway as Lew in “Hispanic Beefcake,” a role that demanded grueling physical training and for which he won glowing reviews, a Tony nomination and a place in the top 10 finalists in the Mr. Universe competition of that year. It was while touring Europe with “Hispanic Beefcake” that Mr. Euker met his future wife, journalist June Carter Cash; the two were married in 1987, and later that year collaborated on the film “Candy’s Favorite,” for which Mr. Euker won Best Supporting Actor and Best Director Oscars. The couple’s only child, Joshua, was born that year as well, and was subsequently named Best Infant of 1989. The marriage ended in excellence shortly thereafter, and Mr. Euker went on to direct “Patience, Patience,” “Speedtrap!” (Palme d’Or, Cannes), “Blue Velvet” and “Because …”
Mr. Euker’s most recent works have explored the kind of uniquely diverse experience that his own full life best characterizes. His radical approach to narrative — especially in Light in August and Sanctuary — promises to expand the scope and function of “literature” as it is traditionally known. Norman Mailer, in his review of Sanctuary, called Mr. Euker “the one true voice of his generation, explosively so … The future of fiction,” Mr. Mailer continued, “is clearly encompassed within the broad confines of Jake Euker’s fertile mind.” The author’s current projects include guest hosting “The Tonight Show” and completion of a medical degree. He is currently sixteen all over again, and lives in a treehouse Downtown.
— Bud Norman