In memory: Leslee Becker

Leslee Becker of Fort Collins passed away peacefully on Feb. 7, in her home.Leslee Becker

Leslee is survived by her brother, John, and her sister-in-law, Yvonne, of Ballston Spa, New York; her nephew, Derek, and her niece, Nyree; her great-nieces, Aubra and Janessa; and her great-great-niece, Hayden. Leslee has also left behind scores of dear friends, former colleagues, former students, admirers, and acquaintances, in Fort Collins and beyond. As Leslee’s brother, John, says, “Leslee was loved by everyone. . . .She made each and every one of us a better person.”

Leslee Becker was born and raised in Au Sable Forks, New York, a tiny hamlet (population 424) in the Northern Adirondacks. She attended Catholic school, and she credited the nuns who instructed her for her love of literature and writing. Leslee always said she was not initially destined for college; instead, she was planning to go to New York City to become an actor. However, Leslee received a scholarship to Cortland State College in New York, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. Leslee continued her education at the University of Vermont (M.A. in English), where wrote a thesis on William Blake and James Joyce. Leslee eventually decided to concentrate on fiction writing; toward that end, she received her first graduate degree in creative writing, at Hollins University in Virginia. Next, Leslee got a master’s of fine arts degree in fiction writing at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. From there, she went to Stanford University as a Stegner Fellow and then a Jones Lecturer.

Leslee came to Colorado State University’s English department as an assistant professor of creative writing in 1990, the first woman in fiction hired for the Master’s of Fine Arts program. Over her thirty-year career at CSU—she retired in 2020—Leslee taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses in fiction writing and literature and directed scores of Master’s of Fine Arts fiction theses, as well as honors theses and independent studies. Leslee was a devotee of the short story and taught courses featuring its prominent practitioners: Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver. In 2006, Leslee was nominated by the Alumni Association for the Best Teacher Award, an honor that reflected many years of superlative teaching and stellar feedback from her students.

Leslee Becker was an invaluable citizen of the CSU community, admired by many for her rigorous work on a seemingly endless number of committees in the department, in the CLA, and university-wide. During her career at CSU, Leslee won the Jack E. Cermack Advising Award and the Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award, and in 2015, she was named a John N. Stern Distinguished Professor.

As an equally distinguished fiction writer, Leslee received a number of awards and honors, among them the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Award; the Nimrod/Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize; the James Michener/Copernicus Society Award; a Rocky Mountain Women’s Fellowship; a Lannan Fellowship; and the Ludwig Vogelstein Award. Leslee was also a fellow or artist-in-residence at many national and international artists’ colonies, such as, Yaddo, MacDowell, Hawthornden (UK), Blue Mountain, Provincetown Center for the Arts, and Ucross. Leslee’s short stories appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, among them, The Atlantic, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, New England Review, Boston Review, and, just earlier this year, Narrative. In 2010, Leslee’s “The Little Gentleman” was cited by Best American Short Stories as one of the year’s most distinguished published stories. Leslee’s work also appeared in anthologies, and editors included excerpts from her short stories in books on teaching creative writing. Her collection of short stories, The Sincere Café, won the Mid-List Press Fiction Award and was published in 1997. At her death, Leslee was working on two manuscripts:  another collection of short fiction, “The Little Gentleman,” and a novel, “Cold River City.”

Leslee Becker’s accomplishments and stature, her warmth and friendliness, her humor and talent cannot be captured in an obituary or in any written form. She was a beloved member of the English department for thirty years, where she was the unofficial “hall monitor,” “movie maven,” and all-around pal to every faculty and staff member, as well as to hundreds of students. She also touched the lives of many others around the university and in Fort Collins. She is deeply missed.

There will be a donor recognition event for Leslee Becker from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, in the Great Hall in the TILT building on the CSU campus. Appetizers, wine, beer, and soft drinks will be served.