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Obituary: Ann Downer-Hazell

Published in The Somerville Journal, December 1, 2015

Ann Downer-Hazell, of Somerville, born November 28, 1960, died November 19, 2015, of ALS.

Novelist, natural history writer, and editor, Ann was born in Falls Church, Virginia, and grew up living in the Philippines and Thailand, traveling in Asia and Europe, before returning to Virginia. A typhoon in the Pacific, a conical volcano in the Philippines, Buddhist temples and crocodile farms in Thailand, geckos and snakes in the gardens, and the classic children’s fantasies by Madeleine L’Engle and Ursula LeGuin: all fed Ann’s rich and voracious imagination. She began writing her own novel in a spiral notebook at age 13. It became the three books of The Spellkey Trilogy, a young-adult fantasy classic.

Ann graduated from Smith in 1982, and after working in Virginia, moved to Cambridge. She worked first for WGBH and then as an editor at Harvard University Press, where her love of the natural world led to splendid books in life sciences and history of science, such as Piotr Naskreki’s The Smaller Majority and Ronald Number’s Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. At the same time she continued with her own YA novels, most notably Hatching Magic and its sequel The Dragon of Never-Was, as well as books of natural history for young readers, such as Elephant Talk, Shark Baby, and Wild Animal Neighbors. Her publisher sped up the publication of Smart and Spineless, on invertebrate intelligence, so that she could see it before she died.

Ann met Ed Hazell, a fellow writer, in the early 1990s. Friendship became love, and stayed friendship. They were married in 1994. Bennet Hazell was born in December, 1999. They have endured much, and given more, throughout the tragedy of Ann’s illness. Her last book, on animal mating and attachment, will be published posthumously in 2016, and is a tribute to her family, her greatest accomplishment.

Survivors: husband Ed Hazell and son Ben Hazell, of Somerville; mother, Vesta Downer, of Falls Church, VA; sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, Judy Downer, Alan Gordon, and Robert Gordon, of Queens, NY. Memorials to Compassionate Care ALS, P.O. Box 1052, W. Falmouth, MA 02574. – See more.