Starkey Flythe Jr., an award-winning poet whose passion for short fiction led to a distinguished career as one of the area’s most literate and politically sophisticated writers, died Friday. He was 78.
“Starkey was a fine poet and fiction writer, who should have been much more widely known and celebrated,” said Laurel Blossom, an Edgefield writer and friend.
An alumnus of the Academy of Richmond County, Flythe graduated from the University of Georgia with a master’s degree in English. He taught at Richmond Academy and in 1971 became re-founding editor of The Saturday Evening Post.
He was recognized as a writer of short stories widely anthologized in such volumes as Best American Short Stories. His poem Greeks appeared in The New Yorker in 2011.
Perhaps the best-known of Flythe’s compositions was Lent: The Slow Fast, the winner of the 1989 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Driving with Hand Controls, the
winner of the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award.
“His poems had a distinctive, run-on voice completely original and his own,” Blossom said. “He was beloved for his wit, his celebratory but wry attitude towards everything and everybody, his encyclopedic
knowledge of everything from daffodils to Dan Rather.”
In addition to his writing, Flythe was a gracious cultural host in Augusta’s literary community, friends said.
Born in Augusta on Feb. 15, 1935, he started the Augusta Poetry Group, served as president of The Authors Club of Augusta, represented the Poetry Society of South Carolina, and organized poetry readings for the Westobou Festival and many other programs.
He accompanied President Nixon on a Middle East trip and interviewed such celebrities as Lady Bird Johnson, Cher, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, John Denver, James Brown and Mac Davis.
Flythe was known as an engaging, genial speaker who brought audiences to laughter and tears.
“He was a dear and wonderful friend who was amazingly intelligent and gifted,” said longtime friend Margaret Brown. “He really is what you would call a treasure of Augusta.”
Brown said Flythe’s spirit is what will be most remembered in Augusta.
He attended St. Paul’s Church every Tuesday for prayer group and every Sunday for worship. Friend Louise Sheftall said she would arrive early to grab a seat up close, moved by the way Flythe read the Gospel.
“He was a beautiful reader of the Bible and very faithful to his church,” said Sheftall, who met Flythe in 2001 through her husband, George Sheftall. “He saw the silly side of any situation that other people didn’t quite see, but he made you feel witty and charming because you got it.”
George Sheftall said he was a close friend with Starkey’s brother, Bachelor, in high school, routinely teasing Starkey during his youth. When the Sheftalls moved back to Augusta, jokes turned into friendship.
“I am going to miss him terribly,” George Sheftall said. “I hope everyone realizes what an asset Starkey was to this community. He was one of a kind.”
Richmond County State Court Judge John Flythe, his nephew, said the funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at St. Paul’s Church.
“The world will be a different place without him,” Blossom said. “He wrote every day. It was all he wanted to
do, and it is hard to imagine a world without new work from his hard-working pen.”