Obituaries

Jane Juska, 84, memoirist of later-life encounters

Jane Juska’s widely read 2003 memoir, ‘‘A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance,’’ detailed her late-life trysts.
Jim Wilson/New York Times/File 2006
Jane Juska’s widely read 2003 memoir, ‘‘A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance,’’ detailed her late-life trysts.

WASHINGTON — ‘‘Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.’’

So began the personal ad that Jane Juska, a retired English teacher living in Berkeley, Calif., placed in the New York Review of Books in 1999. Perhaps to reassure more timid respondents, her offer continued, ‘‘If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.’’

The trysts that followed — and there were many of them — became the stuff of her widely read 2003 memoir, ‘‘A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.’’ The subject of national attention if not titillation, Ms. Juska became a go-to interpreter of later-life desire, entertaining and perhaps inspiring readers with her spicy spirit.

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Ms. Juska, 84, died Oct. 24 at a care facility in Chico, Calif.

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Ms. Juska, a divorcée, said she was inspired to take out the personal ad by ‘‘Autumn Tale,’’ a 1998 film by French director Eric Rohmer in which a woman turns to the newspaper to seek a companion for her middle-aged friend.

At the time, Ms. Juska estimated she had gone 30 years without sex, a drought due neither to lack of interest nor of effort on the dating scene.

‘‘A deep-seated emotion — desire — unseated itself, rose up and began to knock insistently at the door of my sexuality,’’ the San Francisco Chronicle quoted her as writing later. ‘‘I wanted to invite a man into my life. The problem was that, despite senior hikes, senior birdwatching, senior mixers, even a couple of senior dances at a church the doors of which I had not darkened in over fifty years, I couldn’t find one.’’

Tired of waiting, she turned to the New York Review of Books, a venue that she hoped might attract intellectual men who shared her love of literature. The eminent literary review proved fertile ground: Ms. Juska reported receiving 63 replies from men ranging in age from 85 to 32 — but ‘‘a very old 32,’’ she told CBS News.

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Some respondents were classier than others. One mailed a picture of himself wearing sunglasses and nothing else. Ms. Juska did not reply.

In all, the letters yielded eight or nine dates, which, in turn, yielded five sexual encounters, she said. Her suitors’ identities, if not their anatomy or habits, were safe with Ms. Juska; in her memoir, she changed their names and referred to them by such titles as ‘‘Danny the Priest, Jonah the Thief, Robert the Liar, Sidney the Peculiar and Graham the Younger.’’

Like any dater, she had experiences running from the sublime to the less-than-sublime. In the latter category was Jonah, an 80-something, who traveled from the East Coast for their rendezvous at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, which ended with Jonah stealing Ms. Juska’s champagne flutes and silk pajama pants.

At least twice, she said, her heart was broken. ‘‘And I would like to say that that experience is no easier at 67 than it is at 17,’’ she told NPR. ‘‘It’s just at 67, one has less time to get over it.’’

‘‘A Round-Heeled Woman’’ later became a one-woman play written by Jane Prowse and starring Sharon Gless, performed in San Francisco, Miami, and London.

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The story, however graphic, was about more than carnal pleasure, much in the same way, a book reviewer wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, that ‘‘ ‘Moby-Dick’ is about far more than a madman’s search for a whale.’’

Ms. Juska moved to California in the early 1970s after divorcing from her husband, Joe Juska, whom she had married young, and with whom she said she had little emotional connection. ‘‘The loneliest I have ever been was when I was married,’’ she once told the New York Times.