One of First Women Admitted to UI's Writers' Workshop Dies

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By Becky Ogann

IOWA CITY - One of the first women ever admitted to the University of Iowa's Writers' workshop died Tuesday.

Kathleen "Kay" Burford was 89. She is the daughter of former Dubuque Mayor Mark Kane and wife of artist Byron Burford.

In 1947, she became one of the first three women accepted to the world renowned writers' workshop.

Obituary from The Gazette:
Kathleen “Kay” Burford, 89, an Artist/Writer of Iowa City, died peacefully in her sleep Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009, surrounded by family at home after a long illness. The family will receive friends and share memories on Friday after 6 p.m. at the home of her son, Kevin Burford, 528 E. College St., Iowa City.

A native of Dubuque, Kathleen “Kay” Kane Burford first came to Iowa City as a student in 1939. In Dubuque, the Kanes were prominent leaders of the community. Kay’s father, Mark R. Kane, was mayor of Dubuque and vice-president and business manager of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. At the Telegraph-Herald, Kay was a journalist responsible for the Woman’s page.

While studying art at the University of Iowa Kay met Byron, her husband of 65 years. She received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. in art. During her tenure at the School of Art, Kay taught drawing to undergraduate students and was a teaching assistant to Philip Guston. In 1947, Kay was one of the first three women to be accepted into the Writers’ Workshop, along with classmate, Flannery O’Conner. Her work “Bedtime Story” that was completed at the Workshop was later published in the September 1947 edition of Junior Bazaar Magazine.

Noted for their dinner parties, Kay and Byron entertained faculty members and friends, as well as many visiting writers, artists and musicians.

The devoted mother of Kathleen (Kathy), Kevin and Joanna (Nana), Kay was also active in the community, participating in the Raphael Club, Nineteenth Century Club and Hiking Club. She was very active in the Democratic Party. Kay was also an advocate for animals, especially cats and dogs. Despite her chronic asthma, Kay raised many cats over the years, many of who became immortalized in Kay’s drawings, paintings and short stories. In 1981, at one of her three residencies at Yaddo, the artist’s retreat in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., while serving as Guest Director, Kay met author June Jordan. June had just finished writing a children’s book and asked Kay to illustrate it. Houghton Mifflin published the resulting book, Kimako’s Story.

Kay had a marvelous sense of humor and whimsy, and she expressed it in her art and writing. She was a voracious reader and advocate for literacy; Kay read stories to young people at the Iowa City Public Library to encourage them to read.

Kay is survived by her husband, Byron Burford; daughter, Kathy Burford, who resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Don Coe; son, Kevin Burford, daughter-in-law, Helen Burford, granddaughter, Madeline Burford; and daughter, Nana Burford of Iowa City.

The family gratefully acknowledges the care provided by Iowa City Hospice and Mercy Home Healthcare.

Memorials may be directed to Friends of the Animal Center Foundation or Friends Foundation of the Iowa City Public Library.

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