Ted Mooney, a prize-winning novelist and, from 1977 to 2008, a senior editor at Art in America, died Tuesday at the age of 70 after a long bout with heart disease. He is best known as the author of Easy Travel to Other Planets (1981), which received the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was shortlisted for an American Book Award. A speculative near-future narrative, the book introduced the term “information sickness” and memorably involved an erotic relationship between a female oceanic researcher and a dolphin.
Mooney’s subsequent novels were Traffic and Laughter (1990), presciently set in a Los Angeles constantly ablaze; Singing into the Piano (1998), a sexually charged tale of political corruption in the Americas; and The Same River Twice (2010), tracing the story of a French clothing designer suddenly enmeshed in human trafficking via the Russian mafia. The elegantly composed, intellectually poised works garnered Mooney glowing reviews, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two Ingram Merrill Foundation grants.
The author-editor was born in Dallas, raised in Washington, D.C, and educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Columbia University, and Bennington College. He moved to New York immediately after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Bennington in 1973. During his thirty-one years at A.i.A., Mooney brought literary finesse to countless articles and reviews, winning the esteem of writers and editorial colleagues alike. His friends, who ranged from magazine office mates to high-profile personalities, among them Susan Sontag and William S. Burroughs, valued his brilliance, cosmopolitan tastes, acerbic wit, and perpetual bonhomie.
Mooney also occasionally contributed short stories and articles on fashion and contemporary culture to Esquire, Vogue, and other periodicals. In “On Seeing,” a recent post on his blog, he avowed that “the art world . . . taught me how to see.” This, he argued, was an invaluable asset for a writer, or any person who wishes to be fully alive to the world. Revealing an editorial trade secret, Mooney noted that there is only about a 10 percent overlap between people with keen observational powers and people with good writerly skills. Whenever possible, he chose to work with the former—the visually acute. “It is much harder to teach most people who are good with words to see,” he claimed, “than it is to teach the visually alert to write.”
After leaving A.i.A., Mooney conducted graduate-level critical writing seminars at Yale University and worked part-time with former A.i.A. staffers Sarah King and David Ebony at the art-book development firm Snap Editions.