The cause was injuries sustained in an automobile accident on July 14 after he left the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshop, his daughter Sonya Cheuse said.
“Live as much as you can, read as much as you can, and write as much as you can,” Mr. Cheuse taught would-be authors. He practiced what he professed.
After college, already a voracious reader, he lived as much as he could — as a New Jersey Turnpike toll collector; as a vagabond in Europe who, he said, “drank the same Spanish brandy as Hemingway and gazed on the same Mediterranean waves as Byron”; as a welfare caseworker; as an assistant editor of the fur page at Women’s Wear Daily in Manhattan; and as a high school teacher in Mexico.
Mr. Cheuse (pronounced choose) assimilated those experiences to give authentic first-person voices to the characters in his books. They included a fictionalized portrait of the socialist journalist John Reed (“The Bohemians,” 1982), a nearly blind doppelgänger of Georgia O’Keeffe (“The Light Possessed,” 1990), his own father speaking from the grave (“Fall Out of Heaven,” 1987) and — “most daringly of all,” Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in The New York Times in 1986 — a Jewish matriarch (“The Grandmothers’ Club”).
The mother in that novel, Minnie Bloch, whose son is a rabbi, reflects on her family’s story at one point, saying, “When I close my eyes to see and try to contemplate the many sad mysteries of Jersey and New York, the stories I need to tell you, the stories you didn’t know you needed until you heard them, then I call on the powers of my eyes and fingers, the strength of my old memory and deep heard feelings, whatever I have, whatever I give, to show you in your eyes inside the way things moved in this world where I once lived.”
Alan Stuart Cheuse was born in Perth Amboy, N.J., on Jan. 23, 1940. His father, Philip Kaplan Cheuse, who was born in Ukraine and defected from the Russian air force, owned a television repair shop. His mother was the former Matilda Diamond.
After reading a manuscript about his father’s upbringing, the younger Mr. Cheuse wrote in “Fall Out of Heaven,” “We’re traveling light but we’re encumbered, like all wanderers, with the ineffable but ever-present baggage of everything that’s come before.”
He studied literature at Rutgers University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and where he returned to earn a doctorate in comparative literature in 1974.
In between, he said, he submitted “what I thought was a novel” to the literary critic Malcolm Cowley and received a reply “saying something like, ‘Little boy, this is very cute, you have a way with words, but you don’t know anything about life or art!’”
Mr. Cheuse pursued teaching, first at Bennington College in Vermont, where Bernard Malamud, Nicholas Delbanco and John Gardner were also faculty members. But when he was not offered a long-term contract after eight years there, he left and gave himself a goal: to publish a short story by his 40th birthday. He beat his deadline by barely a month. The New Yorker published “Fishing for Coyotes,” about a young woman and her artist husband visiting her family in East Texas, on Dec. 17, 1979.
After that he wrote prolifically: a dozen novels and short-story anthologies as well as four nonfiction books, including collections of essays on literary figures and travel.
Until he published “The Bohemians: John Reed and His Friends Who Shook the World,” Mr. Cheuse described himself as “a novelist who once lived cleverly disguised to himself as a critic.”
By then he had begun a three-decade stint writing two-minute book reviews for “All Things Considered” on NPR (he would write about 1,200 in all) as well as many more reviews for various publications, including dozens for The Times. He also hosted an NPR program called “The Sound of Writing.”
Mr. Cheuse traced his broadcast career to a magazine article he wrote about NPR. The publication that had commissioned the article went out of business before it could be published, but the NPR contacts he had made proved invaluable.
In addition to Bennington, Mr. Cheuse taught at Sewanee: The University of the South, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan. At his death he had been teaching at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
His first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Sonya, he is survived by his third wife, Kris O’Shee; his son, Josh; another daughter, Emma Cheuse; two grandchildren; and a brother, Sheldon.
When he had his fatal accident, Mr. Cheuse was driving to his summer retreat in Santa Cruz, with a stop scheduled in San Francisco to speak about his latest novel, in which Minnie Bloch reappears to recount her family’s downfall. It is titled “Prayers for the Living.”