Lucy Kortchmar, 91, Was Author and Avid Reader

Lucy Kortchmar died in her sleep on August 6 at her Menemsha home, in her 53rd summer on the Island. She was 91.

She was born Lucy Cores into a middle-class family in Moscow. Her family was forced to leave Russia after the Revolution, and she hid out with her mother in Poland and lived for awhile in Paris before arriving in the United States in 1921. Her father, a lawyer in Russia, was a proficient violinist who played in the NBC Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini, and her uncle was an equally accomplished violinist who was once hired to give Jack Benny lessons in playing badly.

Lucy learned English, attended Ethical Culture School in Manhattan and was graduated from Barnard College. She made a living as a graphic artist and book illustrator. In 1942 she met her future husband, Emil Kortchmar, and their first child, Michael, was born in 1944. Daniel followed in 1946 and the couple moved from Manhattan to Larchmont, N.Y. While raising the children, Lucy pursued a career as a writer, publishing several mysteries set in the world of ballet -- she had a close friend who was a dancer -- with titles such as Corpse de Ballet and Let's Kill George. These she wrote under her maiden name.

It was their friends Mitchell and Helen Wilson, then year-round residents of West Tisbury, who introduced them to the Vineyard. They spent August of 1950 renting the Vincent house on Old County Road. After that Menemsha became their summer home; in 1957 they bought their house on North Road.

During their summers, Lucy and Emil were often to be found on the beach at the home of Janis and Albert Leventhal, among a group of close friends from the worlds of publishing and the arts. Lucy made her mark as a formidable poker player. She had a fascination for words and here she found Scrabble opponents, as well as a friendly audience for her compulsive punning. Once, upon being asked at the beach if she wanted to surf, she responded, "They also surf who only stand and wade."

During these years she wrote and published several more books. One of them, Mermaid Summer, was set on the Vineyard and contained characters whose models were easily recognizable by her friends. Woman in Love was based on an early love affair. The Year of December was a historical novel about Claire Clairmonte, the one-time mistress of the poet Byron, and her adventures in Russia.

After Emil's death in 1990, she moved to New York city, but continued to spend her summers on the Island. She gardened and swam every day. She was a regular at the Chilmark library. As her older friends passed out of her life, she made new and younger friends, who found her a source of encouragement and wisdom. She had welcomed the first of her four grandchildren in 1988, and she used to entertain them in her apartment, where the centerpiece of her coffee table was an always-filled bowl of M&M's. She took her friends seriously and challenged them intellectually. She did her best to master the computer to continue with her writing. She was working on a novel about the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin when she died.

There will be a gathering of friends to celebrate her life on Thursday, August 21, from 5 to 7 p.m. at her house, 414 North Road, Menemsha.