Patricia Nell Warren, activist and author dies at 82

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Patricia Nell Warren photo by John Selig
Patricia Nell Warren photo by John Selig

Warren wrote the first gay novel to make New York Times best seller list, The Front Runner, published in 1974.

Patricia Nell Warren, age 82, died on February 9, 2019 at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California after a long battle with cancer. She is best known for her groundbreaking novel The Front Runner. It is a love story about an out gay runner and his closeted track coach. The Front Runner, considered a world classic in gay literature, has sold over 10 million copies in 11 languages. It was published in 1974.

Patricia Nell Warren book cover of "The Front Runner" from 1974
Patricia Nell Warren book cover of “The Front Runner” from 1974

Warren published two sequels to The Front Runner (Harlan’s Race in 1994 and Billy’s Boy in 1997). At the time of Warren’s death, she was putting the finishing touches on the 4th book in The Front Runner Series. The book will be published by her estate.

In the 1970s, after The Front Runner was published, a film version was being considered then and had the involvement of Paul Newman. The film was not produced at that time. It was considered ahead of its time by studios. Warren had recently created a website that is devoted to the movie project and the prospect of having it produced in the future.

Warren wrote a total of 10 novels, several books of non-fiction, poetry (in Ukrainian) and numerous commentaries and short fiction in a distinguished list of publications. She wrote a monthly column for 15 years for A&U Magazine (covering the politics of the AIDS industry), blogged at the Huffington Post, the Bilerico Project, and wrote articles for outsports.com/.

Warren worked at The Reader’s Digest 1959-1981 as a copy editor and then as a books and articles editor. Between 1966 and 1972 she was frequently in and out of Spain, with a residency base in Santander. It is a northern province of Cantabria.  It is there she became familiar with the country’s culture and language, which she utilized when writing her novel The Wild Man, published in 2001.

Born in Helena, MT in June 1936, she grew up with her brother Conrad Warren on the large Grant-Kohrs Ranch at Deer Lodge, MT. The ranch, now a historic site run by the National Park Service, influenced much of Warren’s writing (both fiction and non-fiction). Several stories involving the Grant-Kohrs Ranch were included in her novel My West, which is non-fiction and her most recently published book to date. The ranch was run by her father Conrad Warren (same name as her brother) who married her mother, Nellie whose work was also critical for the operation of the ranch.

Warren graduated class salutatorian in 1953 from Powell County High School at Deer Lodge, MT. She received an Assoc. of Arts degree from Stephens College, Columbia, MO in 1955 and a B.A. in English Literature from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Purchase NY in 1957.

A pioneer in women’s long-distance running, Warren helped to make it possible for women who had been limited to run 2 1/2 miles, the ability to run in marathons. Warren’s expertise in long-distance running proved to be vital when writing The Front Runner.

Warren was active in the civil-rights movement since the early 1970s. Warren also became an activist for free speech, youth rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. In 2007 she ran for West Hollywood City Council. Many of Warren’s papers reside at the University of Southern California (USC) in the ONE Archives. Her estate is continuing to donate the remainder of her papers there.

Warren is survived by her brother, Conrad Warren, and several nieces and cousins. Warren’s remains will be interred at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch at Deer Lodge, MT. Warren served until her death on the board of Directors of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch Foundation.

The Patricia Nell Warren Estate is in the process of setting up a fund for donations that will help with the publication of her final novel (the 4th in The Front Runner Series) which she completed shortly before her death. The fund will also be utilized to continue her legacy, keep all her books in print, and to realize her dream of bringing her novels to film and television. Anyone interested in donating to the fund should contact the estate at patricianellwarrenestate@gmail.com for details.