School 09

Michael Claude Koch

January 14, 1947 ~ May 27, 2022 (age 75)

Obituary

Michael Claude Koch, an editor and lecturer at Cornell University noted for having returned the Cornell literary journal, Epoch, to national prominence, died at home on May 27, 2022, after a brief illness. He was 75 years old and had planned to retire from Cornell on June 30. 

The magazine, which publishes fiction and poetry, and which had been foundering when he ascended from a staff position to the editorship 34 years ago, eventually won an award from O.  Henry Prize stories as the best publisher of fiction in America, an award given in other years to publications such as The New Yorker

Under his editorship, the magazine was honored many times by having its work republished in  virtually every annual literary anthology in the United States, including Best American Short  Stories, Best American Poetry, The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories, New Stories from the South, New Stories from the Southwest, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, The Best American  Non-required Reading, Best New American Voices, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best  of the West, Writer’s Harvest, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and (online only) Poetry  Daily

Michael taught creative writing courses at Cornell throughout his tenure on Epoch and was a legendary classroom teacher as well as an especially attentive and successful undergraduate advisor, winning an award as a Robert A. and Donna B Paul Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising. He mentored graduate students also, taking on each year eight entering MFA students as associate editors of Epoch, many of whom remained his friends even as they were becoming the next generation of famous writers—writers such as Téa Obrecht, Junot Díaz, Catherine Chung, Susan Choi, and Julie Schumacher. 

Born on January 14, 1947 in Philadelphia, PA, the first of six children born in only six years, Michael grew up in the Philadelphia and eventually attended La Salle College (now University), graduating with a degree in English. He then hit the road, traveling around the United States and ending up in California for a time. Next he enrolled in the MFA/fiction program at Wichita State, a site he chose because he admired the faculty and because Kansas seemed to him exotic compared to the Eastern Seaboard. After earning the MFA degree, he was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, where he met his future wife, Stephanie Vaughn, now a professor at Cornell, who is retiring on June 30.  

In addition to his work editing and teaching on Cornell’s main campus during the regular school year, he also annually taught in an intensive 4-week summer program at Cornell’s teaching facility in Rome, a project he helped design, always enjoyed, and regarded as one of his achievements at Cornell until it was closed down by the pandemic. 

Throughout his life, he was known for his generosity and his gentle wit. If you needed something, he would give it to you if he could—his time, his interest, his affection, even his money. He never took himself seriously enough to broadcast his achievements or otherwise draw attention to himself. He often signed his emails playfully, “Yours in Quality Lit.” As the oldest child when he was growing up, he was delegated to look after his five siblings whenever they went to the park down the street, inspiring one of them to say after his death that “he helped raise us.” 

He loved the Phillies and the Jersey Shore. He loved Rome. He loved fiction and poetry. He loved being an uncle. He loved his friends and his family. 

He was predeceased by his parents, Claude Francis Koch and Mary Philomena Kane Koch, and by his brother Christopher. In addition to his wife, he is survived by brothers Stephen (Katie), Gerard, Mark (Annie), sister Mary Jo Koch Hartz (Rich), and sisters-in-law Barbara Vaughn (Dennis Hahn), Mary Dehnbostel-Vaughn and Sandra Koch. Surviving nieces and nephews are Donald Koch (Kristine), Rachel Koch Mulligan (James), Moira Koch Kaniewski (Paul), Caroline Koch Lihou (Bill), Joseph Koch (Lieko), Colin Koch, Margaret (Maggie) Koch, Rory Koch, Maeve Koch, Max Koch, Alex Koch, Emma Koch. 

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Epoch magazine at Cornell. Please make checks payable to “Cornell University” and identify Epoch on the memo line. Mail to Department of Literatures in English, 250 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca NY 14853. 

Burial will be private. A memorial service will be announced later. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Bangs Funeral Home.  Online condolences may be made to www.bangsfuneralhome.com

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