Mr. Cole was 75. He also penned the screenplay to the Sundance Film Festival favorite, "Smooth Talk," starring Laura Dern, and the Off-Broadway plays About Time (1990), about an elderly couple and the subject of death, which starred Audra Lindley and James Whitmore, and Fighting Bob (1981), about Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin senator.
Mr. Cole is survived by his wife, Joyce Chopra, who directed the 1986 coming-of-age film "Smooth Talk," which was based on a Joyce Carol Oates story. She also produced a TV version of Medal of Honor Rag for "American Playhouse" on PBS in 1982. Howard E. Rollins, Jr. starred in the original production; a 2005 Los Angeles production starred the rapper Heavy D.
Medal of Honor Rag, his best known work, was inspired by a true story of a war hero — a Congressional Medal of Honor winner for valor in combat — who was shot and killed while holding up a store in Detroit.
The Paterson, NJ, native earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University. He was a master of Russian language and taught Russian and English literature at MIT. He also wrote short stories, and won three O Henry Awards for his work.
Mr. Cole is survived by daughter Sarah Rose Cole of Cambridge, MA; a brother, Morrill, of Grand View, NY; and a sister, Elizabeth, of Manhattan.