Oakley Hall, author of the novel ‘The Downhill Racers’ passed away on May 12 at age 87. A resident of Squaw Valley, California since 1958, Hall was writer of over two dozen fiction and non-fiction books. A lifelong surfer and skier, Hall published his first novel in 1949. In 1963 Scribner published his ski novel that Hall loosely based on the career of Olympian Dick Buek. His narrative provided much more than apt descriptions of downhill racing and the resulting intellectual explanations. In a deep sense, the real theme of the novel was not racing but initiation, ritual behavior and accomplishment increasingly unavailable in the confining, limiting careerism of our time.
Skillfully written in a lean, sparse style associated with Hemingway’s work, it impressed the actor and skier Robert Redford so much that he made it into a successful film in 1969.
Another of Hall’s books, ‘Warlock,’ written in 1958, was also made into a Hollywood film starring Henry Fonda. Hall would go on to publish many more novels mostly set in the West. His books retain a cult following and even inspired the name of a nationally known rock group, Oakley Hall.
For nearly 20 years, until his retirement in 1990, Oakley directed the writing program at the University of California, Irvine, where his students included Pulitzer Prize winners Richard Ford and Michael Chabon. In 1969 he helped found the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a summer writers’ conference where his students included Anne Rice and Amy Tan.
Married for 63 years to Barbara Edinger, Oakley is survived by his wife, three daughters, Brett Jones, Sands Hall and Tracy Hall, and a son, Oakley Hall III, all of Nevada City; and seven grandchildren.