Bel Kaufman, a former New York City schoolteacher whose classic first novel, “Up the Down Staircase” — shot through with despair and hopefulness, violence and levity, bureaucratic inanity and a blizzard of official memorandums so mind-bendingly illogical as to seem almost Kafkaesque — was hailed as a stunningly accurate portrait of life in an urban school when it was published in 1965, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 103.
Her daughter, Thea Goldstine, confirmed the death.
First published by Prentice Hall, “Up the Down Staircase” spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list. It has sold more than six million copies and been translated into at least 16 languages. So fully has the novel entered the collective consciousness that its title is still used as a catchphrase to describe absurd or impossible situations.
“Up the Down Staircase” was made into a popular movie of the same name, released in 1967. Directed by Robert Mulligan, it starred Sandy Dennis as Ms. Kaufman’s idealistic young teacher protagonist, Sylvia Barrett.