Gerald Haslam, who chronicled life in rural California for three generations, dies at 84

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PETALUMA, Calif. (KGET) — Gerald Haslam, a prolific novelist and historian regarded by many as the Central Valley’s finest writer, has died at age 84, according to a family friend.

Haslam died Tuesday night, former classmate and longtime friend Patricia Puskarich tells KGET.

The cause of death was prostate cancer, which he had successfully held at bay for more than 20 years, said his friend Tom Alexander.

Haslam was born in Bakersfield and raised in Oildale, where he was a classmate of Merle Haggard’s at Standard School. The graduate of Garces High School, Bakersfield College and San Francisco State was the author of at least 21 books, including “Coming of Age in California,” “That Constant Coyote,” and his acclaimed history of West Coast country music, “Workin’ Man Blues.” His short stories appeared in several anthologies and he won more than two dozen awards for his work, including “Honorary Okie” from the State of Oklahoma.

Haslam was a professor of English at Sonoma State University for 30 years, retiring in 1997, and despite living in Penngrove, near the university, he was a regular at Dust Bowl Days and other Kern County events, including CSU Bakersfield’s daylong academic conference, “Oildale and Beyond,” in 2009.

Haslam was married for almost 60 years to his wife Jan, and together they had five children and 14 grandchildren.

A book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle was referring to Haslam’s award-winning 2006 novel “Grace Period,” but he might have been addressing Haslam’s challenging final years when he wrote, “Haslam shows us that grace can indeed conquer the indignities and impoverishments of dying.”

Haslam died at a hospital in his adopted Sonoma County, his son Garth at his side.

Remembrances may be made to the Prostate Cancer Foundation or the “Speck” and Lorraine Haslam Memorial Scholarship fund at Bakersfield College. That scholarship benefits Oildale students attending BC.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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