William Styron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, died yesterday of pneumonia. He was one of the leading writers of his generation, best known for The Confessions of Nat Turner and for the very last novel he wrote about a Holocaust survivor, Sophie's Choice.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

Mr. WILLIAM STYRON (Author): For me, writing has always been such a difficult proposition that I'm very pleased to have to have done what I've done, given the fact that for me writing has always been a great, great source of real pain.

MONTAGNE: That was the writer talking to MORNING EDITION in 1994.

Critics praised William Styron for lending voice to characters who struggled with racism, genocide and mortality. He had his own personal demons as well. In his memoir, Darkness Visible, William Styron wrote about his profound suicidal depression. In a 1990 NPR interview, he read about the epiphany that revived his love of life over the Brahms Rhapsody that inspired it.

Mr. STYRON: (Reading) I thought of all the joys the house had known, the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices, and the nimble commotion; the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds, laughter and ability and sighing, and frocks(ph) and curls. All this I realize was more than I could ever abandon, even as what I had set out so deliberately to do is more than I could inflict on those memories, and upon those so close to me with whom the memories were bound.

MONTAGNE: When he died on Martha's Vineyard at 81, William Styron may not have written all he had in him, but he took on the profound moral issues of his day in prose that rose to the finest of the late-20th century.

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