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Charlie Sugnet's life reads like a novel, full of characters and globe-trotting twists — fitting for a University of Minnesota English professor of 45 years.

And like any good book, the details stay with you long after the story ends.

"I was transformed by his ideas, who he was and his personality," said Kathy Haddad, a writer, educator and community organizer. "He was instrumental in giving me the courage to start the things I ended up starting."

Renowned Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah considered the professor a close friend. Sugnet brought Farah to the U to teach, and Farah brought Sugnet to Africa.

"Charlie was a wonderful host, an intelligent conversationalist and a generous friend to have around," Farah said. "He was a rounded intellectual and a multicultural leftist, interested in the pursuit of ideas wherever they might take him. I will miss him greatly."

Sugnet, of Minneapolis, died May 3 from Parkinson's disease. He was 77.

Charles Joseph Sugnet was born in Port Huron, Mich., on June 20, 1944, to Charles Sugnet and Rosemary Walsh. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y.

His time as a professor, from 1970 to 2015, was transformational for the university and for Sugnet himself.

"He came to the university as a Shakespearean scholar, but he was always remaking himself," said his former colleague, memoirist Patricia Hampl.

Sugnet helped establish the U's creative writing program and served as its first director. He also led the creation of the College in the Schools program.

"Without Charlie at the top of the creative writing program, I don't think we would have been able to build it into what it has become," Hampl said.

With the emergence of postcolonial studies, Sugnet turned his focus to African literature, film and music. He eventually taught in Senegal, Gambia and South Africa and visited dozens of other African countries. Back home, he brought African films to the Walker Art Center and was for years a co-host on the KFAI radio show "African Rhythms."

"I got to see that having only an American point of view was not sufficient," Sugnet said when he retired in 2015, adding his "entire life transformed completely after 40."

On one of many visits to Senegal in 1999, he met Joëlle Vitiello, who would remain his companion for the rest of his life.

She recalled "his love for music, his love for movies and his love for the great outdoors," Vitiello said. "And he loved people."

Sugnet's KFAI co-host, Salif Keïta, agreed.

"He just cared about people, from all walks of life," Keïta said. "When he joined the program, he brought more knowledge, brought up historical and cultural points, and broadened even myself."

For his students, "He was steadfast and generous," said Rachel Mordecai, now a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "He absolutely went above and beyond what was officially or technically required of him."

To that point, Farah said his friend "had one advantage on me, and I loved him for it. Charlie learned Wolof, the main language in Senegal, whereas even though I was the one who first took him there, I did not manage to learn the language as well as he did."

Mordecai said Sugnet's deep care for humanity made his teaching stand out: "The way he talked about literature and film and culture was always grounded in a real concern for the actual humans involved."

Sugnet is survived by his partner, Vitiello; his sons, Chuck, Josh and Marcus and their mothers; four grandchildren; siblings William, Cathy, Paul, John and Anne; a number of nephews and nieces; and many friends.