The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story

The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story

Blanche H. Gelfant Editor
Lawrence Graver Assistant Editor
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 952
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gelf11098
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  • Book Info
    The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story
    Book Description:

    Esteemed critic Blanche Gelfant's brilliant companion gathers together lucid essays on major writers and themes by some of the best literary critics in the United States. Part 1 is comprised of articles on stories that share a particular theme, such as "Working Class Stories" or "Gay and Lesbian Stories." The heart of the book, however, lies in Part 2, which contains more than one hundred pieces on individual writers and their work, including Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Eudora Welty, Andre Debus, Zora Neal Hurston, Anne Beattie, Bharati Mukherjee, J. D. Salinger, and Jamaica Kincaid, as well as engaging pieces on the promising new writers to come on the scene.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50495-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xvi)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)
    Blanche H. Gelfant

    Designated a companion to the twentieth-century American short story, this collection of essays is both an accessory to the stories and writers it presents and a guide. As accessory or aide, it accompanies the stories, providing information about their writers’ lives and literary achievements. As a guide, it points out literary paths taken by American writers whose works are admired throughout the world. By necessity, it has left many roads untraveled. Readers may wish that the Columbia Companion could have pursued these paths, some of them paved recently by best-selling young storytellers such as Nathan Englander and Melissa Bank, whose...

  4. PART I. Thematic Essays

    • THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY CYCLE
      (pp. 9-14)
      James Nagel

      The short story cycle is one of the most important forms of fiction in twentieth-century American literature. Although it has gone largely unrecognized as a genre distinct from the more highly organized “novel” and from the loose “collection” of stories, it has played an important role in literary history. A form centuries older than the novel, collections of unrelated narratives reach back to antiquity, to the Greek “cyclic” poets whose verse supplemented Homer’s epics of the Trojan war, and to such landmark literary achievements as The Odyssey, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and John Gower’s Confessio Amantis. Many of the...

    • THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY, 1807 – 1900
      (pp. 15-24)
      John Seelye

      It is customary to suggest that the short story in America has its start in certain tales by Washington Irving, most famously “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in The Sketch Book in 1820, stories with plots borrowed from German folktales but that became so thoroughly Americanized as to be thought of as native to our soil. However, a much earlier Irving story, “The Little Man in Black,” has had an enduring influence. Included among the Salmagundi sketches in 1807, it established the “Mysterious Stranger” convention often associated with Mark Twain (because of the title of...

    • THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SHORT STORY
      (pp. 25-33)
      David Lionel Smith

      Like African American writing in general, African American short stories emerged as a genre in the context of slavery and the struggle against it. Only in the North, where slavery was illegal, could African Americans publish any writing at all, and even there, powerful pressures of moral imperative, commercial opportunity, and social obligation motivated black authors such as Maria Stewart, William Wells Brown, Martin R. Delany, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs to invest their public voices in the abolitionist effort. Ironically, these imperatives worked against the development of short stories as a preferred genre for African American authors, and to...

    • THE ASIAN AMERICAN SHORT STORY
      (pp. 34-41)
      Amy Ling

      Geographically, the border of Asia begins west of the Ural Mountains and includes all the countries of the so-called Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Theoretically, the term Asian American includes Americans whose ancestry is from any of the countries in this entire continent. But in practice, when Asian American studies began after the Third World Student Strike at San Francisco State University in 1969, the focus was on Americans of East Asian descent. Kai-yu Hsu’s introduction to the first literary anthology, Asian American Authors (1972), defined Asian American as Americans of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean lineage,...

    • THE CHICANO-LATINO SHORT STORY
      (pp. 42-49)
      Ramón Saldívar

      Chicano-Latino short story writers have been at the forefront of a cultural renaissance that has reshaped the landscape of late twentieth-century American fiction. To best understand this emergence of Chicano-Latino short fiction as an important part of American literature, it is necessary to see its source not in recent immigrant experiences alone but rather in historical plots that were formed as early as the first decades of the nineteenth century. In relation to history, the distinguishing feature of Chicano-Latino short fiction is its recurrent attempt to situate us in the aftermath of the historical scenario emerging from the settlement of...

    • THE ECOLOGICAL SHORT STORY
      (pp. 50-55)
      Glen A. Love

      Ecology has become a fashionable word in recent times, its scientific meaning—the study of the interrelationships between organisms and their environment—suggesting important new ways of approaching literature, including the short story. The term ecocriticism refers to a critical perspective that pays close attention to the relationship between literature and the natural world. Traditional literary criticism, powerfully influenced by a pastoral tradition more than two thousand years old, generally regards the natural world as simple and subservient to a complex human culture. The usual assumption of literary criticism is that the only really interesting and significant relationships are those...

    • LESBIAN AND GAY SHORT STORIES
      (pp. 56-63)
      Robert J. Corber

      The Stonewall riots of 1969 radically transformed the conditions under which lesbian and gay writers wrote. Precipitated by what began as a “routine” police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village frequented by Puerto Ricans and African Americans, many of whom were drag queens, the riots radicalized lesbians and gays by demonstrating the importance of openly resisting the homophobia of American society. In the wake of the riots, lesbians and gays were significantly less willing to treat their sexuality as a shameful secret and aggressively asserted their right to participate in the lesbian and gay subcultures...

    • THE NATIVE AMERICAN SHORT STORY
      (pp. 64-71)
      James Ruppert

      Throughout the twentieth century, the voices of Native Americans have provided an essential American “Other” by which white America’s image becomes defined. From the early years of the century, when Indians were still portrayed as ignorant savages, cordoned off in reservations and destined to cultural and physical death by assimilation, up to the late twentieth century, when New Age pilgrims sought out Natives for romantic ecological insights, white Americans long believed that whatever “We” are, the Indian was always something “Other.” This popular essentialization has sparked both interest and lack of interest in Native peoples and cultures. In this cultural...

    • NON-ENGLISH AMERICAN SHORT STORIES
      (pp. 72-80)
      Werner Sollors and the Longfellow Institute

      What are non-English American stories, and why should they be included in this book? Although earlier literary histories of the United States routinely covered works in American Indian, colonial, and immigrant tongues, “American literature” has now become synonymous with English-language literature written in the United States. This is a great loss, for American literature in Yiddish, Polish, Swedish, Welsh, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and German—the list goes on and on—offers fascinating insights into American ethnic diversity in formally accomplished and thematically provocative works. This is particularly true for twentieth-century short fiction: one only has to think of Vladimir...

    • THE AMERICAN WORKING-CLASS SHORT STORY
      (pp. 81-93)
      Larry Smith

      American working-class writing is about people and work—rural, industrial, and postindustrial. It includes the unemployed and goes beyond narrow socioeconomic definitions of income and family background. It offers a cultural appreciation of a majority of Americans who depend “for a living” on “wages” rather than “salaries,” who are closely tied to the immigrant or migrant experiences, are often self-educated or first-generation high school or college graduates, and value a practical and functional use of skills including language, passing their history and values along through oral story telling and direct speech and actions, and dealing with denial and anger as...

    • AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE HOLOCAUST
      (pp. 94-102)
      Andrew Furman

      In less than ten years, and primarily between 1941 and 1945, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis systematically murdered six million Jews in Europe, nearly 40 percent of the world Jewish population. It was not until the late 1950s that the word Holocaust became the standard term to refer to this annihilation of the Jews. In recent years, this powerful term has been appropriated to refer to various acts of inhumanity, including the middle passage and slavery in America, the near extirpation of the American Indians, and the slaughter of the Armenians by the Turks. For this reason, among others, many...

  5. PART II. Individual Writers and Their Work

    • ALICE ADAMS (1926 – 1999)
      (pp. 105-109)
      Greg Johnson

      Since Beautiful Girl, her first collection of short stories, appeared in 1979, Alice Adams has been considered one of America’s most distinctive practitioners of the genre, noted for her wide range of characters, deft command of fictional technique, and compressed, graceful prose style. Many of her stories appeared in The New Yorker, and twenty-two were anthologized in the annual Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, whose editors gave her a Special Award for Continuing Achievement in 1982.

      An only child, Adams was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1926. She spent her childhood in a large farmhouse near Chapel Hill, North...

    • SHERWOOD ANDERSON (1876 – 1941)
      (pp. 109-114)
      Kenny J. Williams

      Sherwood Anderson, the son of Irwin and Emma Anderson, was born in Camden, Ohio, on September 13, 1876. When he was fourteen he dropped out of school, worked as a stable boy, delivered newspapers, and took other available odd jobs. For mid westerners in the later years of the nineteenth century, “going to the city” meant going to Chicago in search of success; and so it was that with unrealistic hopes Sherwood Anderson made his first trip there in 1896. However, the only job he could get was in a warehouse, where he worked for several months.

      In 1898, as...

    • JAMES BALDWIN (1924 – 1987)
      (pp. 114-117)
      Horace Porter

      The author and coauthor of twenty two-books, James Baldwin became famous after the publication of his controversial novel Another Country (1962) and his influential book-length essay The Fire Next Time (1963). His other works include several novels—Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Just Above My Head (1979). His essay collections—Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1956), and The Price of the Ticket (1985)—are widely read. He also wrote two plays, Blues for Mister...

    • JOHN BARTH (1930– )
      (pp. 117-121)
      Arthur Edelstein

      Born in 1930, John Barth grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a circumstance, he suggests in his autobiographical essay “Some Reasons Why,” that is one of the roots of his often unconventional writing style. “Your webfoot amphibious marsh-nurtured writer,” he explains, “will likely by mere reflex regard many conventional boundaries as arbitrary, fluid, negotiable.” Among other factors, he feels, is that he came into life with a twin sister with whom he shared a private language “before and beyond speech,” a language, in that regard, like the music of the jazz groups with which he played to support...

    • DONALD BARTHELME (1931 – 1989)
      (pp. 121-127)
      Barry Weller

      The first appearance of Donald Barthelme’s short fictions challenged the conventions of narrative order, closure, and mimetic fidelity that had dominated the preceding generation of American storytelling. In their matter-of-fact way these stories presented readers and critics with a series of metaphysical and narratological perplexities—a provocation no less potent because the stories’ narrative facts seem, at first, disarmingly familiar, even banal. “The Piano Player” begins simply: “Outside his window five-year-old Priscilla Hess, square and squat as a mailbox (red sweater, blue lumpy corduroy pants), looked around poignantly for someone to wipe her overflowing nose.” However, as the title of...

    • RICK BASS (1959– )
      (pp. 127-130)
      Kerry Ahearn

      Rick Bass’s best-known story might well be the one referred to during interviews and in Fiber (1998), the journey he narrates in Winter: Notes from Montana (1991) and retells in The Book of Yaak (1996). Leaving the South and an oil industry job in his late twenties like the quest-hero of myth, drawn west, “as seems to be the genetic predisposition in our country’s blood,” traveling through New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, into Montana, he came, finally, “over a pass and a valley appeared beneath.” He lives there still. Bass had first encountered Rocky Mountain life as a...

    • RICHARD BAUSCH (1945– )
      (pp. 130-134)
      Russell Reising

      Born in Fort Benning, Georgia, on April 18, 1945, Richard Bausch moved to Washington, D.C., at age three and then to the Maryland suburbs in 1950. Bausch, who now lives in Fauquier County, Virginia, has spent much of his life in the Southeast. Richard and twin brother Robert Bausch have the bizarre distinction of being the only identical twin novelists on the contemporary literary scene in the United States. Their togetherness extends back to 1965—69, when they both served in the United States Air Force. Following his stint, Bausch toured briefly as a guitar player in a rock band...

    • CHARLES BAXTER (1947– )
      (pp. 135-138)
      Jane Bradley

      Charles Baxter was born in Minneapolis on May 13, 1947. He graduated from Macalester College in 1969, completed graduate work at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1974, and went on to teach for several years at Wayne State University in Detroit. Married to Martha Anne Hauser, he has one son, Daniel John. He now teaches at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Master of Fine Arts Program in writing. He is the author of two novels, four books of short stories, a novella, a book of poetry, and a collection of essays on short...

    • ANN BEATTIE (1947– )
      (pp. 138-144)
      Jay Parini

      Born in 1947 and raised in Washington, D.C., Ann Beattie attended local schools and graduated, in 1969, from American University. She attended graduate school at the University of Connecticut and has taught at various universities, including Harvard and the University of Virginia. Married to the painter Lincoln Perry, she now divides her time between Key West and a house on the Maine coast.

      Beattie emerged in the 1970s as a representative voice of her generation, those who like herself came of age in the 1960s— a period of acute social change and upheaval. Her fiction teems with characters from this...

    • SAUL BELLOW (1915– )
      (pp. 144-149)
      Ben Siegel

      Saul Bellow is one of the most renowned of contemporary American novelists. His intellectual and verbal brilliance, comic gifts, and imaginative craftsmanship have won him popular and critical acclaim, as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Born of Russian-Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec, he was nine when his family moved to Chicago. Theirs was an Orthodox Jewish household in which English, French, Yiddish, and Hebrew were spoken or read. After two years at the University of Chicago, Bellow switched to Northwestern University, graduating in 1937 with honors in anthropology and sociology. He then entered the University of...

    • GINA BERRIAULT (1926– )
      (pp. 149-152)
      Karla J. Murphy

      Born in 1926 in Long Beach, California, Gina Berriault spent much of her childhood reading books in order to escape her poverty-stricken existence. Her father, a freelance writer, owned an old typewriter, and it was not long before Berriault began to strike its keys. Typing passages from the books of admired authors, Berriault dreamed of someday writing words as beautiful as the ones she copied. By the time she reached her teens, Berriault was writing her own stories and sending them to magazines, hoping that she would sell one and earn money to help her struggling family. Unlike her blind...

    • DORIS BETTS (1932– )
      (pp. 152-154)
      Charlotte S. McClure

      An award-winning educator, short story writer, and novelist, Doris Betts was born in 1932 in Statesville, North Carolina. Surrounded by an extended family in a working-class region, Betts read widely and found her vocation early in composing poetry and fiction. After two years at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, she transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1953 she won a short story prize from the Mademoiselle College Fiction Contest of 1953 that confirmed her literary ambition. She and her husband, Lowry Betts, a lawyer-judge, have three grown children and now live on...

    • PAUL BOWLES (1910 – 1999)
      (pp. 154-158)
      Allen Hibbard

      Paul Bowles’s short stories, which Gore Vidal has deemed “among the best ever written by an American,” occupy a unique place in American literature. Their distinctly gothic flavor and their tautness suggest comparisons with the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, a connection Bowles himself invites in dedicating his first volume of stories to his mother, “who first read me the stories of Poe.”

      In the tradition of American expatriate writers such as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, and James Baldwin, Bowles found life abroad more suitable to his disposition than life in the United States. Bowles was...

    • KAY BOYLE (1902 – 1992)
      (pp. 158-162)
      Elizabeth Bell

      Born on February 19, 1902, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kay Boyle was the second of two daughters of Howard Peterson Boyle and Katherine Evans Boyle, for whom she was named. Until her death in 1992, her life encompassed the major events of the twentieth century, just as her writing chronicled her life in thinly veiled, acutely honest depictions of her signature autobiographical protagonist—the “American Girl.”

      After World War I the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Boyle worked as secretary in her father’s business. She briefly attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the Ohio Mechanics Institute, where she...

    • RAY BRADBURY (1920– )
      (pp. 162-166)
      David Mogen

      More than readers might expect, given the eerie and otherworldly settings in many of his stories, Ray Bradbury’s biography is interwoven into his fiction. Known primarily as a science fiction and fantasy writer, Bradbury nevertheless grounds even his most exotic landscapes and characters in his own experience, which helps to create the atmosphere of poetic magic realism generated in his best fiction. His most fabulous creations often transform into mythic images specific characters and situations encountered in his own middleclass American life, most notably in the wide varieties of stories and books set in different versions of “Green Town,” based...

    • KATE BRAVERMAN (1950– )
      (pp. 166-172)
      Jane Bradley

      Kate Ellen Braverman was born on February 5, 1950, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but soon moved to Los Angeles, where her father underwent treatment for cancer and her mother struggled to support the family. An only child, Braverman grew up coping with isolation and continual dread of disease and death, factors that later shaped her sensibility as a woman, an addict, and a writer. Braverman received a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1971 and became an active member of the Los Angeles poetry scene. A single mother struggling to establish herself as a...

    • LARRY BROWN (1951– )
      (pp. 172-175)
      Dede Yow

      The story of Larry Brown’s becoming a writer weaves into his fiction in literal and metaphorical ways. He had a “late start,” he states in an address by that title, but it is his early life that holds the “heart of the matter” of his fiction writing. As a boy he listened to his father’s stories of combat in World War II, hearing “terrible, frightening things about the friends he had seen killed . . . the overwhelming amount of death he had seen on both sides.” “I was exposed to these things early,” Brown said, “and it instilled in...

    • ERSKINE CALDWELL (1903 – 1987)
      (pp. 175-180)
      Erik A. Bledsoe

      Erskine Caldwell is primarily remembered, perhaps unjustly, as the author of novels and stories about southern poor whites and their lusty appetites. He came to national attention after a highly successful dramatic adaptation of his novel Tobacco Road (1932) opened on Broadway in 1933 (he did not write the adaptation). The play went on to become the longest-running in Broadway history at the time, closing in 1941, and Caldwell became one of the best-selling authors in American history, mostly through twenty-five-cent paperbacks featuring semiclad women on the covers.

      Caldwell was born in Georgia to an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister father...

    • HORTENSE CALISHER (1911– )
      (pp. 180-184)
      Phillip Stambovsky

      The author of more than two dozen novels and novellas, two autobiographical works, and four collections of short stories, Hortense Calisher was born and raised in New York. She grew up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side with a younger brother in a uniquely mixed middle-class Jewish family. Her father, Joseph Calisher, was a small-scale manufacturer who had moved from his native Richmond, Virginia, in the 1880s. He was a generous, mild-mannered “Victorian” southerner and a great raconteur, but his temperament and milieu stood in sharpest contrast to those of his wife, a defensively exacting and emotionally withdrawn German émigré twenty-two...

    • TRUMAN CAPOTE (1924 – 1984)
      (pp. 184-188)
      Gary Richards

      Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans. His parents, Arch and Lillie Mae (Faulk) Persons, soon separated, and Truman was placed—or abandoned—in various relatives’ households, including that of four unmarried Faulk cousins in small-town Monroeville, Alabama. (Like their neighbor Nelle Harper Lee, who would go on to write To Kill a Mockingbird, these cousins figure prominently in Capote’s writing.) After her divorce Lillie Mae married a Cuban businessman, Joseph Garcia Capote, in 1932, and Truman, to his father’s dismay, took Capote’s name. In 1935 the boy moved to New York City...

    • RAYMOND CARVER (1938 – 1988)
      (pp. 188-193)
      Lawrence Graver

      Raymond Carver was born in the logging town of Clatskanie, Oregon, on May 25, 1938, the first child of Ella Beatrice Casey, a waitress, and Cleve Raymond Carver, a sawmill worker. He grew up in Washington and California; at nineteen he married sixteen-year-old Maryann Burk, and they had two children before he was twenty-one. To support his family, Carver worked as a pharmacy deliveryman, janitor, salesman, mill hand, store clerk, and textbook editor. He attended Chico State College (where he studied writing with the novelist John Gardner) and then Humboldt State College, from which he graduated in 1963. During this...

    • WILLA CATHER (1873 – 1947)
      (pp. 193-198)
      David Stouck

      Willa Cather, a novelist and short story writer famous for her portrayal of frontier settlers and artists, is one of the most accessible and at the same time sophisticated writers of the twentieth century. She was born on December 7, 1873, in Virginia, but when she was nine her family moved to Nebraska as pioneer homesteaders. In this prairie state, Scandinavians, Germans, and Bohemians who had recently immigrated outnumbered native-born Americans. After a year, Cather’s father abandoned farming and moved the family to Red Cloud, where he became a mortgage and loan broker. In town Cather befriended immigrant girls who...

    • JOHN CHEEVER (1912 – 1982)
      (pp. 199-205)
      James Warren

      Born in Quincy, Massachusetts to an old, well-established New England family, John Cheever wrote closely observed, evocative stories about upper middle-class and middle-class Protestants of the American Northeast. Almost all of his fiction is set in a social milieu fixed in its rituals, codes of behavior, and hierarchy of values. Cheever’s characters understand themselves to be the inheritors of a particular cultural and historical tradition, with the responsibilities and privileges that tradition imposes. Although Cheever is often said to be the best short-story chronicler of the American WASP, the crucial historical events that shaped (and were shaped by) these modern...

    • SANDRA CISNEROS (1954– )
      (pp. 205-209)
      Richard Pearce

      Born in Chicago in 1954, Sandra Cisneros has spent most of her life crossing borders. She lived in Chicago, the home of her Chicana mother, and visited the family home of her Mexican father. After graduating from Loyola University in Chicago in 1976, spending two years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and receiving a master of fine arts degree in 1978, she received grants, fellowships, and visiting appointments in Texas, California, and New York. She has lived in different parts of the country since be coming a more or less independent writer, and she continues to cross and recross geographic...

    • WALTER VAN TILBURG CLARK (1909 – 1971)
      (pp. 209-211)
      Max Westbrook

      Walter Van Tilburg Clark was dedicated to the American West, especially the mountains, hiking trails, cold lakes, and even the deserts of his beloved Nevada. He liked the people of the West and enjoyed western history written by those who had lived it. He was born, however, near East Orland, Maine. His mother was an accomplished musician who had graduated from Cornell. His father became head of the political science department at City College of New York. In 1917 Professor Clark moved the family to Reno, where he served as president of the University of Nevada from 1917 to 1938....

    • ELIZABETH COOK-LYNN (1930– )
      (pp. 211-215)
      Norma C. Wilson

      Dakotah Sioux author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn considers herself a storyteller in the tradition of the Dakotah culture, the Dakotapi, or eastern group of the larger nation that also includes the Lakotah and Nakotah literary traditions. Consequently, her fiction shares many qualities of the oral narratives told within America’s First Nations. These narratives, forming the longest tradition of imaginative prose created in the Americas, often defy the categories of literary critics. Cook-Lynn has expressed frustration with the narrow focus on identity that monopolizes many critical commentaries. She feels that First Nations’ literatures deserve the kind of serious attention from literary critics that...

    • ROBERT COOVER (1932– )
      (pp. 215-219)
      Robert L. Caserio

      Born in Charles City, Iowa, in 1932, Robert Coover spent his childhood in Iowa and his adolescence, during the war years, in Indiana and Illinois (his father was managing editor of the Herrin, Illinois Daily Journal). On graduation from Indiana University in 1953, Coover was drafted into the navy and served in Europe, where he met his wife-to-be, a University of Barcelona student, Maria del Pilar Sans-Mallafré. In 1957 Coover began what became his first collection of stories, Pricksongs & Descants (1969). Meanwhile, between 1958 and 1961 he worked toward a general humanities master’s degree at the University of Chicago....

    • LYDIA DAVIS (1947– )
      (pp. 219-223)
      Kasia Boddy

      Lydia Davis was born in 1947 in Northampton, Massachusetts, the daughter of two writers, Robert Gorham Davis and Hope Gale Davis. She grew up in Massachusetts, where her parents taught at Smith College, moving to New York at the age of ten, when her father began teaching at Columbia University. At fifteen she went to study music in Vermont, and at eighteen she began a bachelor of arts in English at Barnard College. Shortly afterward she met Paul Auster, then a student at Columbia. Auster introduced her to a variety of French writers, including Maurice Blanchot, large portions of whose...

    • CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI (1953– )
      (pp. 223-226)
      Roshni Rustomji-Kerns

      Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a short story writer, poet, novelist, and essayist, was born in 1953 in Calcutta, grew up bilingual in Bengali and English, and earned her doctorate in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley (1984). She divides her time between the Bay Area and Houston. She published a collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage, in 1995, and her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, in 1997. Divakaruni has published four collections of poetry, Dark Like the River (1981), The Reason for Nasturtiums (1990), Black candle (1991), and Leaving Yuba City. Poems (1997) and edited two volumes of...

    • ANDRE DUBUS (1936 – 1999)
      (pp. 226-234)
      Suzanne Hunter Brown

      Andre Dubus experienced himself as a man living in a violent America. He wrote as a Catholic who believed in God. The majority of his stories concern lower middle-class families living in the old industrial towns of northeast Massachusetts. These men and women are often lapsed “cradle-Catholics” who live with uneasy decisions about lust, birth control, and abortion. Although many of his characters are unbelievers, in their stories the concepts of love, redemption, and sin have meaning. The thrice-divorced Dubus, however, was hardly an orthodox Catholic: he did not accept the authority of the pope, and his most devout characters...

    • DEBORAH EISENBERG (1946– )
      (pp. 234-239)
      Barry Weller

      “I like the bristling, sparky, kinetic effect you can get from condensing something down to the point where it almost squeaks.” Deborah Eisenberg’s description, to a reporter, of the short story’s attractions suggests the energy with which her own fiction is charged, though its cool, ironic surface masks the intensities below. The details of each story’s world are recorded with witty precision, in sharp contrast to the tentative perceptions and emotions of the characters. The narrative’s characteristic understatement leaves a disquieting doubt about whether the characters have seen what the reader sees—though sometimes the endings deftly, surprisingly reveal just...

    • STANLEY ELKIN (1930 – 1995)
      (pp. 239-242)
      Lawrence Graver

      Although Stanley Elkin’s reputation as a virtuoso prose stylist and creator of mordantly funny, oddly affecting fictions rests on ten novels and two collections of novellas, he published one volume of short stories early in his career that is likely to have enduring appeal. After the appearance of Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers in 1966, however, Elkin pretty much abandoned the short story for longer forms that better allowed him to explore his themes of obsession and excess and to conduct his highly original experiments with a pop-culture-inspired, Yiddish-inflected, Joycean-rich language. Among his most admired novels are The Dick...

    • GEORGE P. ELLIOTT (1918 – 1980)
      (pp. 242-245)
      Phillip Stambovsky

      George P. Elliott was born near Knightstown, Indiana, the son of a Quaker farmer and a Methodist mother. The rural environment and the religious moralism that saturated his childhood experience strongly color Elliott’s literary work, particularly in his characteristic emphasis on moral ideas. When he was ten, financial difficulties forced Elliott’s family to resettle in southern California, which would provide the setting for many of his narratives. After attending a junior college, Elliott went on to study English at the University of California at Berkeley (A.B. 1939, M.A. 1941) . In 1941, he married Mary Emma Jeffress, with whom he...

    • JOHN FANTE (1909 – 1983)
      (pp. 245-248)
      Fred L. Gardaphe

      If the Italian immigrant experience has a presence in anthologies of multicultural American literature, it is usually through a short story by John Fante. He published fully half of his lifetime production of short stories before 1940, in national magazines such as American Mercury, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Bazaar, and Scribner’s. He had also published two novels and Dago Red, a collection of his stories, which was described in a review in the Nation as “plotless sketches of the type written by William Saroyan.”

      John Fante was born in Denver, Colorado, on April 8, 1909, to a father who had immigrated...

    • JAMES T. FARRELL (1904 – 1979)
      (pp. 248-251)
      Robert Fox

      In the second half of the twentieth century, James T. Farrell was regarded as one of the strongest realist writers of the 1930s. Known primarily for novels grouped together as trilogies, tetralogies, and pentalogies, he began his career as a writer of short stories. Two hundred and fifty stories were published in fifteen volumes during his lifetime, many of which can be appreciated today for their strong characterizations and contemporary themes. Among his collections are Chicago Stories (1998), Childhood Is Not Forever and Other Stories (1969), and An Omnibus of Short Stories (1957), which reprints pieces from several of the...

    • WILLIAM FAULKNER (1897 – 1962)
      (pp. 251-258)
      Lee Mitchell

      No other writer in this century has been at once so provincial in his subject matter and so sophisticated in his narrative technique as William Faulkner. Nor has anyone been so influential or so widely imitated. Born in Mississippi in 1897, Faulkner came of age understanding that his family’s reduced circumstances corresponded to the South’s decline; his own father was the mediocre successor to a legendary grandfather of Civil War heroics. Faulkner himself was undistinguished as a student at Ole Miss, though fortunate in having a friend who inspired him to read Melville, Henry Adams, Lawrence, Cather, Huxley, and Fitzgerald....

    • F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (1896 – 1940)
      (pp. 258-264)
      Ruth Prigozy

      Although F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fame rests primarily on his two major novels, The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), he wrote more than 160 short stories during his lifetime. At least six of his stories are considered classics, among the best American short stories published in the twentieth century, and are widely anthologized. Although Fitzgerald thought of himself primarily as a novelist, the stories represent a literary legacy that equals his novels. The connection between the two forms was clear to Fitzgerald, for whom short stories not only provided the income that supported his family over the...

    • RICHARD FORD (1944– )
      (pp. 264-268)
      Morris Dickstein

      Richard Ford’s moving and eloquent stories emerged in the wave of blue-collar realism that swept American fiction in the 1970s and 1980s. Ford was influenced by his friend Raymond Carver, a gifted and original craftsman, who wrote about self-destructive deadbeats and losers who eke out marginal lives in the Pacific Northwest. Misunderstood as a minimalist, Carver evoked failure and unhappiness in a flat, understated tone that reflected the featureless surroundings and numb emotional lives of his characters. Building on Carver’s spare technique and bleak portraiture, Ford’s stories seek a wider emotional range; they focus on the buried feelings, mysterious losses,...

    • MARY GAITSKILL (1954– )
      (pp. 268-272)
      Lauren Berlant

      Mary Gaitskill is the author of two story collections, Bad Behavior (1988) and Because They Wanted To (1997); a novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991); and essays and reviews in such mainstream magazines as Mirabella, Vogue, and Harper’s and such avant-garde Internet journals as Word. Her work is cerebral, representing thinking as central to living; visceral, located in affect-laden scenes of intimacy and aversion; passionate, about pain and survival. It is feminist work, where the wounds of romance feel familiar and confirming to the female characters, in contrast to male confusion, surprise, or resentment. It has also been identified...

    • WILLIAM H. GASS (1924– )
      (pp. 272-276)
      Elaine B. Safer

      A much admired and highly esteemed writer, William Howard Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 30, 1924, and grew up in Warren, Ohio. He majored in philosophy at Kenyon College (B.A., 1924) and received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell University in 1954. In 1952, he married Mary Patricia O’Kelly and had three children. In 1969, he married Mary Alice Henderson and had two more children. He taught at the College of Wooster (1950–54) and Purdue University (1954–69). Since 1969 he has taught in the philosophy department at Washington University, where he is David May...

    • ELLEN GILCHRIST (1935– )
      (pp. 276-282)
      Jane Bradley

      Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1935, Ellen Gilchrist spent her childhood in the midst of an extended southern family. Her father had to take his family out of the South to pursue his career during World War II, but Gilchrist kept her southern roots alive by returning each summer to the family’s estate in Mississippi, where the facts and fictions of Gilchrist’s career were spawned. Gilchrist’s college education and writing career were interrupted by marriage, and she moved to New Orleans, a city that inspired many stories the world would latercometo know. In 1976 Gilchristtook the crucial step to establish...

    • HERBERT GOLD (1924– )
      (pp. 282-286)
      Sanford Pinsker

      Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Herbert Gold received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1946 and his M.A. from the Sorbonne in 1948. Like Philip Roth and John Updike, he belongs to a group of writers who came into prominence during the 1950s. During that period, Gold made his mark as a literary chronicler of the places and people that, taken together, represented a significant pattern of contemporary American experience. At his best, Gold could blend the social realism that had been the identifying mark of naturalists such as Theodore Dreiser and John Steinbeck with the literary modernism associated with James...

    • ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899 – 1961)
      (pp. 286-293)
      Peter Mascuch

      One of the great innovators of the twentieth-century form, Ernest Hemingway continues to be among the most widely read, frequently taught, and carefully studied of American short story writers. Much of the material for his fiction came from his life. Born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, the second child and first son of Grace Hall, a music teacher, and Clarence Hemingway, a doctor, Hemingway eventually had four sisters and one younger brother. The family summered in northern Michigan, where the boy learned from his father to hunt and fish. A restless student, he graduated fromhigh school as an aspiring...

    • AMY HEMPEL (1951– )
      (pp. 293-296)
      Kerry Ahearn

      Amy Hempel is among a small group of contemporary American writers who have achieved an international reputation for short fiction alone. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and prestigious anthologies; they have also been translated into more than a dozen languages. Hempel’s first collection, Reasons to Live (1985), established her reputation as a poetic and meticulous observer of small but resonant moments in the lives of seemingly unremarkable people. Two subsequent volumes, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), and Tumble Home (1997), extended and refined her reputation.

      Born in Chicago in 1951,...

    • MARY HOOD (1946– )
      (pp. 297-300)
      Dede Yow

      How Far She Went, Mary Hood’s first collection of stories (1984), won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Southern Review Louisiana State University Short Fiction Award. From that volume, “Inexorable Progress” was selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 1984, and two years later And Venus Is Blue, Hood’s second collection, won the Townsend Award for Fiction and the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists Author-of-the Year Award. “Something Good for Ginnie” won a Pushcart Prize in 1986, and Mary Hood was given a Whiting Writers Award in 1994. Her stories have appeared in prestigious magazincs,...

    • LANGSTON HUGHES (1902 – 1967)
      (pp. 300-305)
      Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper

      Born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri, James Mercer Langston Hughes grew up in the Midwest in a college-educated African American household. As an adolescent, however, when thousands of blacks were migrating out of the agricultural South, Hughes went to Mexico to visit and work with his father James, who had divorced his mother Carrie when Langston was a toddler. Hughes’s fluent Spanish and racially ambiguous looks allowed him to live comfortably among Mexicans, but in 1920 he decided to move to New York City to attend Columbia University. After a year, disappointed academically and socially, he left to travel,...

    • ZORA NEALE HURSTON (1891 – 1960)
      (pp. 305-310)
      Carla Kaplan

      Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, a birth date that she sometimes erased by as much as a dozen years and a birthplace she always supplanted with Eatonville, the all-black Florida town that her father helped to found and that, according to Hurston’s autobiography, was “the first attempt at organized self-government on the part of Negroes in America.” Hurston returned to Eatonville often as an adult and she drew inspiration from it throughout her career, using it not only for her well-known images of healthy, autonomous, racial self-definition and nurturing community life but also for her...

    • SHIRLEY JACKSON (1916 – 1965)
      (pp. 310-314)
      Joan Wylie Hall

      The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” on June 26,1948, and hundreds of readers recorded their stunned reaction to the tale of a woman’s ritualistic death by stoning in a twentieth-century American town square. “By the next week,” Jackson wrote in her “Biography of a Story,” “I had to change my mailbox to the largest one in the post office, and casual conversation with the postmaster was out of the question, because he wasn’t speaking to me.” Although she joked about the more upset correspondents, who included her own mother, Jackson was unnerved by the sudden notoriety.

      Discussed as...

    • JAMAICA KINCAID (1949– )
      (pp. 314-319)
      Rhonda Denise Frederick

      Poverty and the lack of educational opportunity for girls in the late 1960s compelled Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid to immigrate to the United States to work as an au pair. Yet with her agile mind and iconoclast’s personality, the soon-to-be writer did not long remainin this position. Kincaid held several jobs, earned her high school degree, and studied photography in and around New York City between 1966 and 1973. A chance elevator ride with George W. S. Trow, then a “Talk of the Town” columnist for The New Yorker, proved to be the watershed event in Kincaid’s writing career. With Trow’s...

    • RING LARDNER (1885 – 1933)
      (pp. 319-325)
      Geoffrey Sanborn

      In the 1920s, Ring Lardner was one of America’s most acclaimed writers of short fiction. Virginia Woolf hailed his baseball stories as “the best prose that has come our way.” H. L. Mencken declared, “There is more of sheer reality in such a story as ‘The Golden Honeymoon’ than in the whole canon of Henry James, and there is also, I believe, more expert craftsmanship.” And Dorothy Parker, reviewing a retrospective collection of his fiction, wrote, “It is difficult to review these spare and beautiful stories; it would be difficult to review the Gettysburg address.”

      With the exception of “Haircut,”...

    • DAVID LEAVITT (1961– )
      (pp. 325-329)
      Julie Rivkin

      David Leavitt “came out in The New Yorker in more ways than one,” he has said, when he was only a college junior: his short story “Territory” was the first that magazine had ever published on gay experience. That debut in 1983, quickly followed by the publication of his short story collection Family Dancing in 1984, earned him a literary reputation both impressive and burdensome. Prodigy, gay pioneer, spokesperson for a generation, Leavitt has experienced both the glamour and the detraction that come with early media attention. He returned to the short story after writing two novels, The Lost Language...

    • URSULA K. LE GUIN (1929– )
      (pp. 329-333)
      Elizabeth Cummins

      Ursula K. Le Guin achieved national recognition for her short stories and novels in the 1970s. She is revered for her world building, lyrical style, character-centered stories, experimental structures, and moral concerns. Her primary themes are political rebellion and freedom, self and other, loyalty and betrayal, liminality and alienation, and communication.

      Le Guin was born in 1929 into a family that not only encouraged her independence and development, evidenced by her submitting her first science fiction story at the age of twelve to Amazing Stories, but also provided a milieu of cultural study and relativism. Her father, Alfred Kroeber (...

    • MERIDEL LE SUEUR (1900 – 1996)
      (pp. 333-337)
      John Crawford

      Meridel Le Sueur was born in Iowa in 1900 and lived through nearly all of the twentieth century to become a voice of conscience for her time. Her mother, socialist educator Marion Wharton, and her Puritan grandmother Antoinette McGovern Lucy, a leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, raised her in the turbulent era of radical populism on the plains until the family relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1917. By the time Meridel was seventeen, she had met many of the famous “Reds” of her day, including Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Emma Goldman, and she was inflamed...

    • SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM (1944– )
      (pp. 337-341)
      Zhou Xiaojing

      Shirley Geok-lin Lim, professor of English and women’s studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has published three collections of short stories, Another Country and Other Stories (1982), Life’ s Mysteries: The Best of Shirley Lim (1995), and Two Dreams: New and Selected Stories (1997). Lim also writes poetry, memoir, and literary criticism. Her first collection of poetry, Crossing the Peninsula and Other Poems (1980), received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for a best first book of poetry, and her memoir Among the White Moon Faces: An Asian-American Memoir of Homelands(1996) won the 1997 American Book Award. One of her...

    • JACK LONDON (1876 – 1916)
      (pp. 341-345)
      Donald Pizer

      Interest in the writings of Jack London is often inseparable from a fascination with his biography. Born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876, the illegitimate son of an itinerant astrologer, Jack London was raised by his hard-working but poor mother and stepfather, from whom he took the name London. From these beginnings, London fought his way to success by means of a strong body, a quick intelligence, and above all a tenacious will. After leaving school at the age of fifteen, he worked as a San Francisco Bay oyster pirate. During the next seven years he served as a...

    • DAVID WONG LOUIE (1954– )
      (pp. 345-349)
      Shirley Geok-lin Lim

      David Wong Louie was born in Rockville Center, NewYork, in 1954. He attended Vassar College and the University of Iowa and began publishing in midwestern and western literary magazines such as the Iowa Review, Kansas Quarterly, and Quarry West. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and has been a fellow at the McDowell Colony and Yaddo. His stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1989 and TheBig Aiiieeeee!: AnAnthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature (Penguin, 1992). Louie’s collection of short stories Pangs of Love received the Ploughshares John C....

    • NORMAN MAILER (1923– )
      (pp. 349-352)
      Eric Heyne

      As one of the most prolific and notorious writers of the late twentieth century, Norman Mailer is both highly distinctive in his style and in many ways representative of his time. Indeed, Mailer’s writing reflects the literary history of the last hundred years, from early naturalism to later experimental works that blend fact and fiction, history and the novel. Short stories such as “A Calculus at Heaven,” “The Language of Men,” “The Time of Her Time,” and “The Man Who Studied Yoga” suggest the arc of this development. They give a sense of Mailer’s voice as it developed in his...

    • BERNARD MALAMUD (1914 – 1986)
      (pp. 353-358)
      Mark Shechner

      Bernard Malamud was the finest short story writer produced by Jewish culture in America, and was, indeed, one of the classic American writers of short fiction. The five collections of short stories he published in his lifetime—The Magic Barrel (1958), Idiots First (1963), Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition (1969), Rembrandt’s Hat (1973), and The Stories of Bernard Malamud (1983)—make a persuasive case for our ranking him with Hawthorne or Poe or Flannery O’ Connor, who, upon reading The Magic Barrel in 1958, wrote to a friend: “I have discovered a short story writer who is better than any...

    • BOBBIE ANN MASON (1940– )
      (pp. 358-361)
      Dede Yow

      Bobbie Ann Mason’s first collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), won her the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction in 1983. Her stories had appeared in such widely circulated magazines as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Mother Jones. By the time Love Life appeared in 1989, Mason had contributed her stories to awards anthologies (Best American Short Stories 1981 and 1983) and won the Pushcart Prize (1983 and, later, 1996) and O. Henry Award (1986 and 1988). Her 1985 novel In Country was made into a Warner Brothers film by director Norman Jewison in 1989, while...

    • MARY McCARTHY (1912 – 1989)
      (pp. 361-366)
      Wendy Martin

      In form and theme, Mary McCarthy’s writings have extraordinary range. Her enduring work includes scores of novels, short stories, autobiographies, and books of cultural criticism, as well as hundreds of essays and reviews. Throughout her writing, McCarthy has exhibited a deep concern for civil rights and social responsibility; she wrote penetrating and astute essays on the Vietnam War and the Watergate trials; more privately, she discussed her philosophical and intellectual concerns in letters to her close friend, political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Deeply engaged with cultural events and intellectual trends, Mary McCarthy’s novels and short stories reflect dramatic shifts in American...

    • ELIZABETH McCRACKEN (1966– )
      (pp. 366-369)
      Michelle Latiolais

      Elizabeth McCracken is the author, to date, of two books: a collection of short stories, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry (1993), and a novel, The Giant’s House (1996).Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry was an American Library Association Notable Book of 1994. The Giant’s House was a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award in fiction and is the work that earned her a place on Granta magazine’s much-touted Best Young American Novelists list, a lineup of twenty of America’s up-and-coming young writers, seven of whom were women. Daphne Merkin claimed in The New Yorker that “although McCracken is...

    • CARSON McCULLERS (1917 – 1967)
      (pp. 369-373)
      Gary Richards

      Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith to Lamar and Marguerite (Waters) Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. The precocious child began writing plays at an early age but held music to be her calling. By 1931, however, she abandoned her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, and she instead traveled to New York City to study creative writing at Columbia and New York University. On a return trip to the South, Carson met Reeves McCullers, also an aspiring writer, who soon relocated to New York. The couple married in 1937 and moved to North Carolina. There, before...

    • THOMAS McGUANE (1939– )
      (pp. 373-377)
      Nancy Cook

      Thomas McGuane was born in Michigan in 1939. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Michigan State University and a master of fine arts degree from the Yale School of Drama, and he held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. McGuane’s fiction is set in Michigan, the Florida Keys, and Montana, places where he has lived. Since the late 1960s, McGuane has owned and operated a working ranch in southwestern Montana. Currently he ranches near McLeod, Montana, where he lives with his third wife, Laurie, and their children. An avid sportsman, McGuane has written extensively about...

    • JAMES ALAN McPHERSON (1943– )
      (pp. 377-380)
      Horace Porter

      Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1943, James Alan McPherson grew up in a working-class African American community and attended racially segregated public schools. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. In the summer of 1962 he was hired as a waiter for the Great Northern Railway, a job that allowed him to observe at close range the habits, speech, and values of a diverse range of Americans, and that provided him with material for some of his best early stories. Although McPherson had begun writing fiction while still an undergraduate, his real promise as...

    • NICHOLASA MOHR (1938– )
      (pp. 380-384)
      María Elena Cepeda

      In many ways, the life of New York Puerto Rican (Nuyorican) author Nicholasa Mohr, born in1938 in Spanish Harlem, mirrors the experiences of her fictional characters. While not strictly autobiographical, Mohr’s work is intimately tied to her own working-class Puerto Rican childhood at the height of the Puerto Rican migration to New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. Originally trained as a graphic artist at New York’s Art Students League, the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, and the Pratt Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Mohr began writing in the early 1970s at the suggestion of an art collector, and soon...

    • LORRIE MOORE (1957– )
      (pp. 384-390)
      Janet R. Raiffa

      In 1998, Lorrie Moore’s third collection of short stories, the most moving of which focus on motherhood and mortality, was chosen as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. The citation for Birds of America succinctly summarized Moore’s comic yet dark style, which reviewers over the years have characterized as “ruefully” and “painfully” funny, “gallows humor,” “sardonic,” “mordant,” and full of “deadpan wit.” “Moore, like Samuel Beckett,” the editorial board noted, “sees that nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” In reviewing the collection, critics lauded a new assurance and “full maturity” in her...

    • TOSHIO MORI (1910 – 1980)
      (pp. 390-394)
      Dennis Washburn

      In Toshio Mori’s 1941 story “The Sweet Potato” is this brief but meaningful exchange:

      On the last day of the Fair we walked much and said little. . . . Hiro was almost crying. “Here’s this wonderful thing called the Fair ending tonight. . . .Tomorrow the Island will be empty and dark. . .

      “What do you think?” he asked me suddenly. “Do you think our people will ever be noticed favorably? What can we Japanese do? Must we accomplish big things here in America?

      “Little things can accomplish big things too. I think,” I said.

      “That’s right,” he...

    • BHARATI MUKHERJEE (1940– )
      (pp. 394-399)
      Josna Rege

      Bharati Mukherjee is the best-known and most-anthologized contemporary North American fiction writer of South Asian origin, with two important volumes of stories and five novels to her credit. Her second collection, The Middleman and Other Stories, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988, bringing her to prominence as an energetic, aggressively optimistic voice of the late twentieth-century waves of immigration to the United States. However, Mukherjee sees herself as an American rather than an Indian or Asian American, and most of her work reflects her conviction that immigrants remake themselves when they come to America, breaking with their...

    • VLADIMIR NABOKOV (1899 – 1977)
      (pp. 399-403)
      Stephen Fix

      By the time he died in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov had secured his place among the twentieth century’s greatest writers. He had lived in six countries but ultimately considered himself “an American writer.” “In America,” he declared in Strong Opinions, “I found my best readers, minds that are closest to mine. . . . It is a second home.”

      Nabokov’s first home was Russia, where he was born into a wealthy St. Petersburg family in 1899. His father, a prominent politician opposed to the Bolshevik revolution, led the family to exile—eventually in Berlin—in 1919. That acters bereft of what...

    • JOYCE CAROL OATES (1938– )
      (pp. 403-409)
      Kasia Boddy

      Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lock-port, Erie County, New York, on June 16, 1938 (Joyce’s Bloomsday), the daughter of Frederic and Caroline (Bush) Oates. In 1959 she won the Mademoiselle college fiction contest with “In the Old World.” The following year she graduated with a bachelor of arts in English from Syracuse University; she took a master of arts at the University of Wisconsin in 1961. At Wisconsin, she met and married Raymond Smith, who now runs the Ontario Review Press. In 1963 her story “The Fine White Mist of Winter” was included in Martha Foley’s Best American Short...

    • TIM O’BRIEN (1946– )
      (pp. 409-413)
      Tobey C. Herzog

      Tim O’Brien’s literary reputation emerges from seven books and several award-winning short stories. Praised for his sensitive and imaginative treatments of American soldiers’ experiences in the Vietnam War, O’Brien is often placed in the company of other prominent Vietnam soldier-authors such as Philip Caputo, Larry Heinemann, Robert Olen Butler, and John M. Delvecchio. O’Brien, a self-described “strict realist” who dismisses critics’ labels of “surrealist” or “magical realist,” argues, and rightfully so, that he is much more than a “war writer.” He explores the broader themes of the daily war of the living. He also examines in a postmodernist fashion the...

    • FLANNERY O’CONNOR (1925 – 1964)
      (pp. 413-419)
      John J. Murphy

      Few storytellers are as initially appealing and ultimately inaccessible as Flannery O’Connor. Her clear, energetic style, humorously delineated cartoon like characters, and wild mixture of narrative ingredients make an irresistible combination. Take, for example, Mrs. Freeman’s introduction at the opening of “Good Country People,” the story of the lady Ph.D. who has her artificial leg stolen by a Bible salesman. The impervious Free man has two public expressions, forward and reverse: her forward was “like the advance of a heavy truck. Her eyes never swerved” but “turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center.” When she occasionally...

    • JOHN O’HARA (1905 – 1970)
      (pp. 420-423)
      Phillip Stambovsky

      A prolific writer of novels, novellas, plays, and journalism, John O’Hara was also the author of fifteen substantial collections of short stories. O’Hara’s fiction commanded a vast popular readership for four decades, despite the reservations of reviewers who criticized his work as superficial, too detailed, and limited in range. Such objections notwithstanding, however, O’Hara nonetheless produced a considerable body of short stories that are masterworks of social realism and narrative irony.

      The son of Dr. Patrick H. and Katherine Delaney O’Hara, John O’Hara was born and raised in Pottsville, the small industrial town in the eastern Pennsylvania mining region that...

    • TILLIE OLSEN (1913? – )
      (pp. 423-430)
      Deborah Silverton Rosenfelt

      The author of a small but powerful body of work, Tillie Olsen is best known today for Tell Me a Riddle (1962), a volume of short stories; Yonnondio, a novel written in the 1930s but not published until 1974; and Silences (1978), a collection of critical essays and reflections that have the density of poetry. Her short fiction is highly regarded for its consummate craft and transformative vision.

      Tillie Olsen’s parents, Samuel Lerner and Ida Beber Lerner, were born and raised in Russia. Drawn to the Bund, a Jewish socialist organization with a humanist and internationalist perspective, they participated in...

    • SIMON ORTIZ (1941– )
      (pp. 430-433)
      James Ruppert

      Simon Ortiz’s life and writing center on Acoma, New Mexico. The stark southwestern landscape and the open skies form the backdrop for the culture and perspective of the Pueblo people whose agricultural acumen and stable sociopolitical structure have endured for centuries. Simon Ortiz was born into these people and this landscape on May 27, 1941, in Albuquerque. His parents were both from Acoma Pueblo and raised a large family in nearby McCartys. He was schooled locally, learning English as a second language. In the sixth grade he enrolled in a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school in Santa Fe. Later...

    • CYNTHIA OZICK (1928– )
      (pp. 433-439)
      Mark Shechner

      From a distance, Cynthia Ozick’s biography looks as if it was cut from that pattern unique to an earlier generation of so-called New York intellectuals. Born in New York in 1928, on the eve of the Depression, Ozick was a child of Russian-Jewish immigrants who owned a drugstore. Doing odd jobs about the store, she first became aware of the long hours and grinding work of small business people. But there too she discovered wonders, the human and chemical smells, the window displays of balanced goldfish bowls, and the books that came around with The Traveling Library, a big green...

    • GRACE PALEY (1922– )
      (pp. 439-444)
      Jonathan Baumbach

      Born in the Bronx on December 11, 1922, Grace Paley has a quintessential New York voice. Its vitality, its sheer imaginative energy, an amalgam of the rhythms of urban English, Yiddish, and Russian (with an occasional dip into African American, Irish, and Puerto Rican street talk) is the triumph and defining characteristic of her art. The stories seem to generate from the narrative voice. It is as if the language invents them, each story seemingly making itself up as it finds its ideal form. An improvisatory casualness is one of the disguises of her fiction. A high degree of technical...

    • AMÉRICO PAREDES (1915 – 1999)
      (pp. 444-447)
      Luís Leal

      Américo Paredes, ethnographer, poet, and fiction writer, is best known for his study of the Mexico/United States border culture, especially that of the region known as the Lower Rio Grande. To the study of the popular literature of that part of Texas he has dedicated several publications. His book With His Pistol in His Hand (1958), which marked a new direction in Chicano scholarship, is a study of the corrido (ballad) of the legendary border figure Gregorio Cortez. Before that Paredes had written a novel and some short stories, unfortunately not published until much later, for they represent the...

    • DOROTHY PARKER (1893 – 1967)
      (pp. 447-452)
      Wendy Martin

      Although Dorothy Parker is known best for her sassy repartee around the Algonquin Round Table, she was an accomplished writer of poetry, stories, plays, and film scripts, as well as of drama and book reviews. Although her sardonic poetry was extremely popular when it was published and remains readable today, her short stories are her greatest accomplishment. Through them, Parker depicts the complexities of cultural transformation in the early twentieth century.

      Born in West End, New Jersey, Dorothy Parker grew up in New York with parents from two very different worlds. Her father was a descendent of German Jews who...

    • JAYNE ANNE PHILLIPS (1952– )
      (pp. 452-456)
      Kasia Boddy

      Jayne Anne Phillips was born in Buckhannon, West Virginia, on July 19, 1952. She graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of West Virginia and in 1978 with a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa, where she has also taught. She is the recipient of many awards, including, in 1977 and 1979, the Pushcart Prize; in 1978, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; and in 1980 the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction for Black Tickets. She has also received a Bunting Institute Fellowship from Radcliffe College. Her first novel,...

    • KATHERINE ANNE PORTER (1890 – 1980)
      (pp. 456-462)
      Mary Ann Wimsatt

      Katherine Anne Porter ranks with William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, and Eudora Welty as a twentieth-century master of modern American short fiction. A consummate artist, she wrote stories marked by unflinching treatment of painful material, deft control of narrative perspective, exquisitely precise details, firmly realized characters, and a finely crafted style. Born Callie Russell Porter on May 15, 1890, in the frontier community of Indian Creek, Texas, she was the fourth of five children of Mary Alice Jones and Harrison Boone Porter. When Porter’s mother died in 1892, the family moved to Kyle, in south-central Texas, to live with...

    • WILLIAM SYDNEY PORTER (O. HENRY) (1862 – 1910)
      (pp. 462-468)
      John Seelye

      O. Henry is a byword for formulaic fiction with wide popular appeal, being a pen name associated with a story form marked by anecdotal variety, shrewd observation, deft handling of coincidence and ironical circumstance, and, most typical, the frequent use of an attention grabbing surprise ending, qualities long since fallen from critical favor as being glib and superficial. Recent biographical studies suggest O. Henry’s stories came by their devices honestly, being intimately connected to the personal history of the man behind the mask, William Sydney Porter. Though his pseudonym was associated with fiction having a humorous point of view and...

    • ANNIE PROULX (1935– )
      (pp. 468-476)
      Janet R. Raiffa

      In 1992, E. Annie Proulx published her first novel, Postcards, which won her immediate critical acclaim and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 1994, Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for her best-known novel, The Shipping News (1993). The highly stylized tale of an awkward and tormented boy who grows into a cuckolded and love-starved man sold over one million copies, and brought the author’s darkly humorous and disturbing vision of isolation and everyday violence to a large audience. Proulx followed The Shipping News with the best-seller Accordion Crimes (1996), essentially a series of stories interwoven into a novel, united by...

    • THOMAS PYNCHON (1937– )
      (pp. 476-480)
      Molly Hite

      Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was born May 8, 1937, in Oyster Bay, New York. After an initial period in the college of engineering at Cornell University and a two-year stint in the navy, he graduated from Cornell as an English major in 1959. There is little publicly available information about his life and background after this point. According to an essay by his close friend Richard Fariña, he went into hiding in 1963 after the publication of his first novel, V., when reporters started chasing him, intrigued by the wild and esoteric quality of his fictional universes and hoping to uncover...

    • MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS (1896 – 1953)
      (pp. 480-483)
      Rodger L. Tarr

      Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born in Washington, D.C., on August 8, 1896, and died in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 14, 1953. She married Charles Rawlings in 1919, divorced him in 1933, and married Norton Baskin in 1941. Rawlings’s literary life can be divided into three periods: her student days, her newspaper days, and her Florida days. While a high school student, Rawlings wrote stories and poems for the Washington Post and McCall’s; and, while a student at the University of Wisconsin, where she was graduated with honors in English in 1918, she wrote stories, poems, and essays for university publications....

    • ALBERTO ALVARO RÍOS (1952– )
      (pp. 483-487)
      Sofia Shafquat

      Alberto Alvaro Ríos was born in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, in 1952 to a Mexican father, Alvaro Alberto Ríos, and an English mother, Agnes Fogg. He grew up speaking Spanish and English. “As kids in school,” he recalls, “you got swatted for speaking Spanish, so one of the first equations you formed was that Spanish must be bad.” By the end of elementary school, the young Ríos was no longer willing to speak Spanish. Yet growing up bilingual created in him “a fusion of sensibilities and perspectives,” says Ríos, along with the juxtaposition of two worlds that has...

    • PHILIP ROTH (1933– )
      (pp. 487-490)
      Emily Miller Budick

      Probably the most popular and influential of the Jewish American authors, and certainly the funniest, Philip Roth has (to date) published twenty-four novels, short story collections, and books of essays, plus numerous other occasional pieces of writing. Since his earliest fiction, Roth has been the ethnic construct Jewish American, which he tends to view with jaunty humor and cutting satire. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, to a family well aware of itself as Jewish but largely nonobservant in terms of religious practice, Roth received little formal education in Judaism or Jewish history. Like many Jewish Americans of his...

    • DAMON RUNYON (1880 – 1946)
      (pp. 490-494)
      Barry Weller

      Alfred Damon Runyan, later known as Damon Runyon, was born on October 8, 1880, in Manhattan, Kansas, where his father was editor of the Manhattan Enterprise. In 1887 the family moved to Pueblo, Colorado; as a teenager Runyon published his first two stories in one local newspaper (temporarily edited by his father) and in 1895 began his career as a reporter with another, the Pueblo Evening Press. During the Spanish-American War he enlisted and served in the Philippines (though his subsequent accounts embroidered several aspects of his record). After the war he reported on topics from crime to sports for...

    • J. D. SALINGER (1919– )
      (pp. 494-501)
      Karen Shepard

      Given the singularity of his subject matter and the odd shape of his career, J. D. Salinger’s fiction both benefits and suffers from a frozen-in-time quality. The stories on which his reputation is based were published over roughly eleven years, and they do not fall into early, middle, or late periods in which a style or worldview develops. Rather, they are products of the sensibility of the late 1940s and early 1950s, one that reflects the postwar concerns of anxious young people growing up in a world without clear guiding values. Most of the stories focus on the lives of...

    • BIENVENIDO N. SANTOS (1911 – 1996)
      (pp. 501-504)
      Leonor Aureus Briscoe

      Bienvenido N. Santos was born in the slums of Tondo, Manila, on March 22, 1911. His parents were illiterate peasants; his father, a laborer for the Bureau of Public Works, knew only two English words: “roads” and “bridges.” Santos grew up in a household where no English was spoken and no reading materials were available. He started school when the Philippines was a colony of the United States and instruction was in English only. For the boy this turned out to be more of a blessing, “a tool for expressing our feelings,” than a colonial imposition. As he read Whittier,...

    • WILLIAM SAROYAN (1908 – 1981)
      (pp. 504-508)
      Edward Halsey Foster

      William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, the only son of Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, Armenian immigrants from Bitlis in eastern Anatolia. Armenak died in 1911, and Takoohi, unable to support her son and two daughters, sent them to the Fred Finch Or phanage in Oakland, California, where they remained until 1916.

      Saroyan’s work is largely autobiographical, but in print he never discussed his years in the orphanage until The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952). In the early, popular stage of his career, he characteristically avoided discussing the unpleasant parts of his life—and of life generally. Critics coined...

    • DELMORE SCHWARTZ (1913 – 1966)
      (pp. 508-512)
      Phillip Stambovsky

      Born in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York, Delmore Schwartz was the son of middle-class, Eastern European Jewish immigrants. An emotionally damaging childhood was to haunt his personality, his literary art, and his professional career. As a young boy, Schwartz became a pawn in a doomed marriage that was a theater of open and bitter conflict. Tellingly, the Kafkaesque narrative frame of seminal short stories throughout his career—for example, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” (1935) , “America! America!” (1958) , and “The Track Meet” (1958)—involves a protagonist who anguishes helplessly about events that vitally concern him, but over which he...

    • LESLIE MARMON SILKO (1948– )
      (pp. 512-515)
      Melody Graulich

      “I grew up at Laguna Pueblo,” wrote Leslie Silko in Kenneth Rosen’s 1974 collection of contemporary American Indian short stories, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, where six of her early stories were published. “I am of mixed-breed ancestry, but what I know is Laguna. This place I am from is everything I am as a writer and a human being.” She continued to pay tribute to the origins of her work in the dedication to her third book, Storyteller (1981) : “to the storytellers as far back as memory goes and to the telling which continues and through which...

    • JEAN STAFFORD (1915 – 1979)
      (pp. 515-519)
      Mary Ann Wilson

      Jean Stafford produced a small but brilliant canon of short stories whose settings and themes echo her geographical rootlessness. She was born in Covina, California, in 1915, but when she was seven, her family moved to Colorado. All of her formative years were spent in the university town of Boulder, where her mother took in boarders to support the family while her father attempted to pursue a writing career. Stafford received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder and subsequently studied philology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, beginning her lifelong quest to...

    • WALLACE STEGNER (1909 – 1993)
      (pp. 519-523)
      Gary Scharnhorst

      Wallace Stegner is best known for such novels as Angle of Repose (1971) and The Spectator Bird (1976)—the first awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the second a National Book Award. Early in his career, however, Stegner was hailed for his short stories. Between 1941 and 1955, his fiction was included in seven annual volumes of Best American Short Stories and four O. Henry Awards volumes, and he received first prize in the O. Henry competition in 1950 for “The Blue-Winged Teal.” Born in Iowa in 1909 and raised in North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Utah, Stenger was educated...

    • JOHN STEINBECK (1902 – 1968)
      (pp. 523-526)
      Jay Parini

      John Steinbeck, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, was born in 1902 in Salinas, California, where his father was a minor government official. He was educated in the local schools and attended Stanford University, although he failed to graduate. He spent the first half of his life in the Salinas-Monterey region of California, which provided a backdrop for most of his best fiction. In his later years, after two unsuccessful marriages, he settled in New York with his third wife, Elaine.

      As a writer of short fiction, Steinbeck produced some of his finest works: a collection of...

    • ELIZABETH TALLENT (1954– )
      (pp. 526-530)
      Michelle Latiolais

      Though her first published book was a critical work titled Married Men and Magic Tricks: John Updike’s Erotic Heroes (1982), Elizabeth Tallent is best known as a writer of short stories. She has published three collections of stories to date: In Constant Flight (1983), Time with Children (1987), and Honey (1993). The prose of all three collections can be broadly characterized as elegant, sensuous, devout in capturing the moment, the gesture, the high-wire tension of human exchanges. Tallent’s ability to describe emotional complexity is almost scientifically careful and, arrestingly, both clinical and insinuatingly initimate at the same time.

      Elizabeth Tallent...

    • PETER TAYLOR (1917 – 1994)
      (pp. 530-536)
      John Burt

      Peter Taylor was born to a politically connected family in Trenton, Tennessee, and spent much of his early years in Nashville and St. Louis, where his father was a lawyer and businessman. Betrayed by a client, the financier Rogers Caldwell, whose corruptions figure in Taylor’s novel A Summons to Memphis (1986), Taylor’s father moved the family to Memphis in 1932 to rebuild his fortunes. Taylor’s stories are keenly perceived and subtly presented examinations of upper-class life in these places, and frequently the stories turn on the fine differences among their cultures. Few authors can render a city or town, whether...

    • JAMES THURBER (1894 – 1961)
      (pp. 536-540)
      Robert H. Bell

      The author of many witty, elegant sketches, memoirs, fables, parodies, and spoofs, James Thurber was perhaps America’s preeminent twentieth-century humorist. Born in 1894 in Columbus, Ohio, the middle of three boys, he was the child of a civil servant and a playful, theatrical mother. When James was seven years old, he was blinded in his left eye in a bow-and-arrow accident. He attended Ohio State University where he began his career as a journalist. After a brief stint in France as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he settled in New York City and began writing for the fledgling New...

    • JOHN UPDIKE (1932– )
      (pp. 540-547)
      Lawrence Graver

      One of the most prolific, versatile, and widely read of late twentieth-century writers, John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania, the only child of Wesley R. Updike, a high school mathematics teacher, and Linda Grace Hoyer, an aspiring writer. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954, he studied for a year at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, and on returning to America, joined the staff of The New Yorker, the magazine where he has since published much of his short fiction, poetry, light verse, parodies, essays, and book reviews.

      Since 1957,...

    • HELENA MARÍA VIRAMONTES (1954– )
      (pp. 547-549)
      Silvia Spitta

      Helena María Viramontes was born in East Los Angeles in 1954. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Immaculate Heart College and a master of fine arts degree from the University of California at Irvine. Coordinator of the Los Angeles Latino Writers Association, literary editor of XismeArte Magazine and 201: Homenaje a la Ciudad de Los Angeles, coeditor with María Herrera-Sobek of Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, she is the winner of several literary awards, including the University of California Irvine Chicano Literary Contest. She has made her name as one of the...

    • ANNA LEE WALTERS (1946– )
      (pp. 549-554)
      Norma C. Wilson

      The short stories of Anna Lee Walters, written primarily for other American Indians, affirm a respect for customs and the land that is of absolute necessity to tribal peoples. Her book The Sun Is Not Merciful: Short Stories won the American Book Award in 1986. This collection of eight stories illustrates the continuing importance to tribal peoples of stories that link them to the cosmic forces, shaping their identity and commitment to the natural world and to their culture. Her experience of Pawnee, Otoe-Missouri, and Navajo cultures has shaped Walters’s vision as a writer.

      In an autobiographical preface to her...

    • ROBERT PENN WARREN (1905 – 1989)
      (pp. 554-556)
      Jay Parini

      Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, in 1905, and died in 1989. Educated at Vanderbilt University and Oxford, he taught for many years at Yale, where he was associated with a group of literary scholars often referred to as the New Critics. He is best known as a poet and novelist, the author of such major works as All the King’s Men (1946), a novel about Willie Stark, a corrupt but charismatic southern state governor based on Louisiana’s Huey Long, and Brother to Dragons (1953), a book-length poetic drama. Warren won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry twice, and...

    • SYLVIA A. WATANABE (1953– )
      (pp. 556-560)
      Zhou Xiaojing

      Sylvia A. Watanabe is a third-generation Japanese American, born in Hawaii on the island of Maui, and it is this birthplace that has inspired her stories. She is the recipient of a Japanese American Citizens League National Literary Award and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies such as The Best of Bamboo Ridge (1986), Passages to the Dream Shore: Short Stories of Contemporary Hawaii (1987), and Home to Stay: Asian American Women’s Fiction (1990). Talking to the Dead (1992) is Watanabe’s first collection of short stories...

    • EUDORA WELTY (1909– )
      (pp. 560-569)
      John Burt

      The last of a great generation of southern writers that includes Robert Penn Warren, Caroline Gordon, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, and Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909. She was educated at Mississippi State College for Women and at the University of Wisconsin, where she developed a passion for photography, and where she studied Woolf, Yeats, Chekhov, and Turgenev, who indeed are imaginatively closer to her than Faulkner, Warren, or O’Connor. After a year spent studying advertising at the Columbia University Business School, she returned to Jackson in 1931, and has lived in her family’s...

    • EDITH WHARTON (1862 – 1937)
      (pp. 569-573)
      Dale M. Bauer

      Edith Wharton, whose career spanned five decades, has long been considered one of America’s best female novelists. Famous for such novels as The House of Mirth (1905) and the Pulitzer Prizewinning The Age of Innocence (1920), she is known also for her many finely crafted short stories—eighty-five in all. Among her twelve collections of stories are, notably, The Greater Inclination (1899), Human Nature (1933), The World Over (1936), and the posthumous volume Ghosts (1937). Though Henry James was seen as Wharton’s precursor, his influence has been exaggerated. Neither he nor Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett, nor...

    • JOY WILLIAMS (1944– )
      (pp. 573-579)
      Jane Bradley

      Joy Williams was born in 1944 in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Both her father and grandfather were Congregational ministers, and her most influential reading, she said, was the Bible: “The Bible influenced me because all those wonderful stories—about snakes and serpents and mysterious seeds and trees—didn’t mean what they seemed. They meant some other thing . . . that began my preoccupation with what a story can do. . . the literal surface is not important.” While a student at Marietta College in Ohio, she began writing and publishing fiction. She sharpened her...

    • TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (1911 – 1983)
      (pp. 579-582)
      Morris Dickstein

      Overshadowed by his celebrated work as a playwright, Tennessee Williams’s warmly evocative short stories have been unjustly neglected. A number of them were published in obscure or popular magazines, sometimes long after they were first written, or collected in limited editions because of their frank treatment of sadomasochism or homosexuality. A few, such as “Desire and the Black Masseur” (1946), achieved minor notoriety without ever being widely read. Several were seen as little more than source material for his plays. It was not until they were brought together posthumously in his Collected Stories (1985), with an incisive introduction by Gore...

    • WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS (1883 – 1963)
      (pp. 582-586)
      Russell Reising

      Born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams was the oldest son of William and Raquel Hélène Rose Hoheb Williams. Growing up in then rural northern New Jersey, Williams developed a profound sense of place, a knowledge of the spirit, the colors, sights, sounds, and smells of his home turf. His passion for literature was instilled in him early by his father’s frequent reading, especially of Shakespeare, to William and his brothers. Williams’s formal schooling involved a year in Europe with stints in a school in Geneva, Switzerland, and extensive travel in France, before he graduated...

    • TOBIAS WOLFF (1945– )
      (pp. 586-591)
      James Hannah

      Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff was born on June 19, 1945, to Rosemary Loftus and Arthur Saunders “Duke” Wolff in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1949, Wolff’s parents separated and Tobias moved with his mother to Washington State. Wolff began prep school at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in 1961 but was expelled in 1963. Trained as a GreenBeret and conversant in Vietnamese, Wolff served four years in the U.S. Army. In 1972, Wolff received a bachelor of arts degree from Oxford University in English language and literature.

      Wolff married Catherine Dolores Spohn in 1975. Also that year, he took his master...

    • RICHARD WRIGHT (1908 – 1960)
      (pp. 591-596)
      David Lionel Smith

      The publication of Uncle Tom’s Children in 1938 announced the advent of a radical new voice in American literature. Born in 1908 in Mississippi, Richard Wright exemplified the militant spirit of the African American left in the 1930s. Wright explicitly acknowledged his own combative spirit in his autobiography, Black Boy (1945), which praises H. L. Mencken for “fighting with words.” Richard Wright himself aspired to be just such a literary warrior. He made this intent apparent in the blunt, pugnacious stories of Uncle Tom’s Children. In ensuing years, Wright’s literary and intellectual ambitions broadened, reflecting his serious engagement with works...

    • HISAYE YAMAMOTO (1921– )
      (pp. 596-600)
      Amy Ling

      Hisaye Yamamoto, along with Toshio Mori, was one of the first Japanese American writers to gain national recognition after World War II. Her stories, some of which were included in Martha Foley’s Best American Short Stories of 1949, 1951, 1952, and 1960, delineate with great sensitivity and complexity a variety of Japanese American experiences before and after the war, often from a woman’s perspective. In 1988 they were collected in a single volume, Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.

      Hisaye Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1921. She began to write as a teenager, receiving her first rejection slip...

    • ANZIA YEZIERSKA (1881 – 1970)
      (pp. 600-604)
      Alice Kessler-Harris

      As a child of perhaps eight or nine, Anzia Yezierska joined the throng of Jewish emigrants fleeing religious persecution in Eastern Europe. With her family, she left the small shtetl of Plinsk, arriving in New York probably around 1890. The difficult early years, the smells and sounds of the Lower East Side where she lived, poverty and its lasting effects on family relationships and friendships—these became the enduring topics of Anzia Yezierska’s work. But its themes were much broader, touching on such huge issues as the meaning of America, the democracy it promised, and the terrible loneliness awaiting those...

  6. INDEX
    (pp. 605-660)