History of Literature









American literature

 

CONTENTS:

The 17th century

The 18th century

Early 19th-century literature

From the Civil War to 1914

The 20th century. Writing from 1914 to 1945

The 20th century. After World War II



 


American literature
 

 


The 20th century. After World War II

 

 
 

Robert Penn Warren
Henry Miller
Truman Capote
Paul Bowles
James Baldwin
Allen Ginsberg
William S. Burroughs
Norman Mailer
Irwin Shaw
Joseph Heller
Kurt Vonnegut
John Barth
Donald Barthelme
Thomas Pynchon
J.D. Salinger
Saul Bellow
Bernard Malamud
Philip Roth
Isaac Bashevis Singer
John Cheever
Ray Bradbury
Isaac Asimov
Robert Anson Heinlein
Raymond Carver
E.L. Doctorow
Arthur Miller
Tennessee Williams
Edward Albee

John Updike
Gore Vidal

 

 

 

 

 



After World War II



The literary historian Malcolm Cowley described the years between the two world wars as a “second flowering” of American writing. Certainly American literature attained a new maturity and a rich diversity in the 1920s and ’30s, and significant works by several major figures from those decades were published after 1945. Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Katherine Anne Porter wrote memorable fiction, though not up to their prewar standard; and Frost, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Gwendolyn Brooks published important poetry. Eugene O’Neill’s most distinguished play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, appeared posthumously in 1956. Before and after World War II, Robert Penn Warren published influential fiction, poetry, and criticism. His All the King’s Men, one of the best American political novels, won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. Mary McCarthy became a widely read social satirist and essayist. When it first appeared in the United States in the 1960s, Henry Miller’s fiction was influential primarily because of its frank exploration of sexuality. But its loose, picaresque, quasi-autobiographical form also meshed well with post-1960s fiction. Impressive new novelists, poets, and playwrights emerged after the war. There was, in fact, a gradual changing of the guard.

Not only did a new generation come out of the war, but its ethnic, regional, and social character was quite different from that of the preceding one. Among the younger writers were children of immigrants, many of them Jews; African Americans, only a few generations away from slavery; and, eventually, women, who, with the rise of feminism, were to speak in a new voice. Though the social climate of the postwar years was conservative, even conformist, some of the most hotly discussed writers were homosexuals or bisexuals, including Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Paul Bowles, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin, whose dark themes and experimental methods cleared a path for Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.
 


Robert Penn Warren



 

Robert Penn Warren, (b. April 24, 1905, Guthrie, Ky., U.S.—d. Sept. 15, 1989, Stratton, Vt.), American novelist, poet, critic, and teacher, best-known for his treatment of moral dilemmas in a South beset by the erosion of its traditional, rural values. He became the first poet laureate of the United States in 1986.

In 1921 Warren entered Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., where he joined a group of poets who called themselves the Fugitives. Warren was among several of the Fugitives who joined with other Southerners to publish the anthology of essays I’ll Take My Stand (1930), a plea for the agrarian way of life in the South.

After graduation from Vanderbilt in 1925, he studied at the University of California, Berkeley (M.A., 1927), and at Yale. He then went to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. From 1930 to 1950 he served on the faculty of several colleges and universities—including Vanderbilt and the University of Minnesota. With Cleanth Brooks and Charles W. Pipkin, he founded and edited The Southern Review (1935–42), possibly the most influential American literary magazine of the time. He taught at Yale University from 1951 to 1973. His Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943), both written with Cleanth Brooks, were enormously influential in spreading the doctrines of the New Criticism.

Warren’s first novel, Night Rider (1939), is based on the tobacco war (1905–08) between the independent growers in Kentucky and the large tobacco companies. It anticipates much of his later fiction in the way it treats a historical event with tragic irony, emphasizes violence, and portrays individuals caught in moral quandaries. His best-known novel, All the King’s Men (1946), is based on the career of the Louisiana demagogue Huey Long and tells the story of an idealistic politician whose lust for power corrupts him and those around him. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and, when made into a film, won the Academy Award for best motion picture of 1949. Warren’s other novels include At Heaven’s Gate (1943); World Enough and Time (1950), which centres on a controversial murder trial in Kentucky in the 19th century; Band of Angels (1956); and The Cave (1959). His long narrative poem, Brother to Dragons (1953), dealing with the brutal murder of a slave by two nephews of Thomas Jefferson, is essentially a versified novel, and his poetry generally exhibits many of the concerns of his fiction. His other volumes of poetry include Promises: Poems, 1954–1956; You, Emperors, and Others (1960); Audubon: A Vision (1969); Now and Then; Poems 1976–1978; Rumor Verified (1981); Chief Joseph (1983); and New and Selected Poems, 1923–1985 (1985). The Circus in the Attic (1948), which included “Blackberry Winter,” considered by some critics to be one of Warren’s supreme achievements, is a volume of short stories, and Selected Essays (1958) is a collection of some of his critical writings.

Besides receiving the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Warren twice won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (1958, 1979) and, at the time of his selection as poet laureate in 1986, was the only person ever to win the prize in both categories. In his later years he tended to concentrate on his poetry.
 

 

 


Henry Miller





 

American author

born Dec. 26, 1891, New York City
died June 7, 1980, Pacific Palisades, Calif., U.S.

Main
U.S. writer and perennial Bohemian whose autobiographical novels achieve a candour—particularly about sex—that made them a liberating influence in mid-20th-century literature. He is also notable for a free and easy American style and a gift for comedy that springs from his willingness to admit to feelings others conceal and an almost eager acceptance of the bad along with the good. Because of their sexual frankness, his major works were banned in Britain and the United States until the 1960s, but they were widely known earlier from copies smuggled in from France.

Miller was brought up in Brooklyn, and he wrote about his childhood experiences there in Black Spring (1936). In 1924 he left his job with Western Union in New York to devote himself to writing. In 1930 he went to France. Tropic of Cancer (published in France in 1934, in the United States in 1961) is based on his hand-to-mouth existence in Depression-ridden Paris. Tropic of Capricorn (France, 1939; U.S., 1961) draws on the earlier New York phase.

Miller’s visit to Greece in 1939 inspired The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), a meditation on the significance of that country. In 1940–41 he toured the United States extensively and wrote a sharply critical account of it, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), which dwelt on the cost in human terms of mechanization and commercialization.

After settling in Big Sur on the California coast, Miller became the centre of a colony of admirers. Many of them were writers of the Beat generation who saw parallels to their own beliefs in Miller’s whole-hearted acceptance of the degrading along with the sublime. At Big Sur, Miller produced his Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, made up of Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus (U.S. edition published as a whole in 1965). It covers much the same period of Miller’s life as Tropic of Capricorn and, together with that book, traces the stages by which the hero-narrator becomes a writer. The publication of the “Tropics” in the United States provoked a series of obscenity trials that culminated in 1964 in a Supreme Court decision rejecting state court findings that the book was obscene.

Other important books by Miller are the collections of essays The Cosmological Eye (1939) and The Wisdom of the Heart (1941). He was also a watercolourist; he exhibited internationally and wrote about art in To Paint Is To Love Again (1960). Various volumes of his correspondence have been published: with Lawrence Durrell (1963), to Anaïs Nin (1965), and with Wallace Fowlie (1975).
 

 

 


Truman Capote




 

Truman Capote, original name Truman Streckfus Persons (b. Sept. 30, 1924, New Orleans, La., U.S.—d. Aug. 25, 1984, Los Angeles, Calif.), American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. His early writing extended the Southern Gothic tradition, but he later developed a more journalistic approach in the novel In Cold Blood (1965), which remains his best-known work.

His parents were divorced when he was young, and he spent his childhood with various elderly relatives in small towns in Louisiana and Alabama. (He owed his surname to his mother’s remarriage, to Joseph Garcia Capote.) He attended private schools and eventually joined his mother and stepfather at Millbrook, Conn., where he completed his secondary education at Greenwich High School.

Capote drew on his childhood experiences for many of his early works of fiction. Having abandoned further schooling, he achieved early literary recognition in 1945 when his haunting short story “Miriam” was published in Mademoiselle magazine; it won the O. Henry Memorial Award the following year, the first of four such awards Capote was to receive. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), was acclaimed as the work of a young writer of great promise. The book is a sensitive portrayal of a homosexually inclined boy’s search for his father and his own identity through a nightmarishly decadent Southern world. The short story “Shut a Final Door” (O. Henry Award, 1946) and other tales of loveless and isolated persons were collected in A Tree of Night (1949). The quasi-autobiographical novel The Grass Harp (1951) is a story of nonconforming innocents who retire temporarily from life to a tree house, returning renewed to the real world. One of Capote’s most popular works, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958; filmed 1961), is a novella about a young, fey Manhattan playgirl.

Capote’s increasing preoccupation with journalism was reflected in the “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood, a chilling account of a multiple murder committed by two young psychopaths in Kansas. Capote spent six years interviewing the principals in the case, and the critical and popular success of his novel about them was the high point of his dual careers as a writer and a celebrity socialite. For though a serious writer, Capote was also a party-loving sybarite who became a darling of the rich and famous of high society. Endowed with a quirky but attractive character, he entertained television audiences with outrageous tales recounted in his distinctively high-pitched Southern drawl.

Capote’s later writings never approached the success of his earlier ones. In the late 1960s he adapted two short stories about his childhood, “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” for television. The Dogs Bark (1973) consists of collected essays and profiles over a 30-year span, while the collection Music for Chameleons (1980) includes both fiction and nonfiction. In later years Capote’s growing dependence on drugs and alcohol stifled his productivity. Moreover, selections from a projected work that he considered to be his masterpiece, a social satire entitled Answered Prayers, appeared in Esquire magazine in 1975 and raised a storm among friends and foes who were harshly depicted in the work (under the thinnest of disguises). He was thereafter ostracized by his former celebrity friends. Answered Prayers remained unfinished at his death.
 

 

 


Paul Bowles



 

Paul Bowles, in full Paul Frederic Bowles (b. December 30, 1910, New York, New York, U.S.—d. November 18, 1999, Tangier, Morocco), American-born composer, translator, and author of novels and short stories in which violent events and psychological collapse are recounted in a detached and elegant style. His protagonists are often Europeans or Americans who are maimed by their contact with powerful traditional cultures.

Bowles began publishing Surrealist poetry in the Parisian magazine transition at the age of 16. After briefly attending the University of Virginia, he traveled to Paris, where his interests turned to music. In 1929 he returned to New York and began studying musical composition under Aaron Copland. Bowles became a sought-after composer, writing music for more than 30 theatrical productions and films. During this time, he also became a member of the loose society of literary expatriates in Europe and North Africa and started writing short stories. In 1947 he and his wife, writer Jane Bowles, settled in Tangier, Morocco, a city that became his most potent source of inspiration. There, he wrote his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949; film, 1990), a harsh tale of death, rape, and sexual obsession. It became a best-seller and made Bowles a leading figure in the city’s expatriate artistic community.

Bowles’s later novels include Let It Come Down (1952), The Spider’s House (1955), and Up Above the World (1966). His Collected Stories, 1939–1976 (1979) and his subsequent short-story collections, which include Midnight Mass (1981) and Call at Corazón (1988), also depict human depravity amid exotic settings. Bowles recorded Moroccan folk music for the U.S. Library of Congress, wrote travel essays, translated works from several European and Middle Eastern languages into English, and recorded and translated oral tales from Maghribi Arabic into English. Without Stopping (1972) and Two Years Beside the Strait: Tangier Journal 1987–1989 (1990; U.S. title, Days) are autobiographical.
 

 

 


James Baldwin



 

James Baldwin, (b. Aug. 2, 1924, New York City—d. Dec. 1, 1987, Saint-Paul, Fr.), American essayist, novelist, and playwright whose eloquence and passion on the subject of race in America made him an important voice, particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the United States and, later, through much of western Europe.

The eldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty in the black ghetto of Harlem in New York City. From 14 to 16 he was active during out-of-school hours as a preacher in a small revivalist church, a period he wrote about in his semiautobiographical first and finest novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and in his play about a woman evangelist, The Amen Corner (performed in New York City, 1965).

After graduation from high school, he began a restless period of ill-paid jobs, self-study, and literary apprenticeship in Greenwich Village, the bohemian quarter of New York City. He left in 1948 for Paris, where he lived for the next eight years. (In later years, from 1969, he became a self-styled “transatlantic commuter,” living alternatively in the south of France and in New York and New England.) His second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956), deals with the white world and concerns an American in Paris torn between his love for a man and his love for a woman. Between the two novels came a collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son (1955).

In 1957 he returned to the United States and became an active participant in the civil-rights struggle that swept the nation. His book of essays, Nobody Knows My Name (1961), explores black–white relations in the United States. This theme also was central to his novel Another Country (1962), which examines sexual as well as racial issues.

The New Yorker magazine gave over almost all of its Nov. 17, 1962, issue to a long article by Baldwin on the Black Muslim separatist movement and other aspects of the civil-rights struggle. The article became a best-seller in book form as The Fire Next Time (1963). His bitter play about racist oppression, Blues for Mister Charlie (“Mister Charlie” being a black term for a white man), played on Broadway to mixed reviews in 1964.

Though Baldwin continued to write until his death—publishing works including Going to Meet the Man (1965), a collection of short stories; and the novels Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Just Above My Head (1979); and The Price of the Ticket (1985), a collection of autobiographical writings—none of his later works achieved the popular and critical success of his early work.
 

 

 


Allen Ginsberg





 

Allen Ginsberg, (b. June 3, 1926, Newark, N.J., U.S.—d. April 5, 1997, New York, N.Y.), American poet whose epic poem Howl (1956) is considered to be one of the most significant products of the Beat movement.

Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, N.J., where his father, Louis Ginsberg, himself a poet, taught English. Allen Ginsberg’s mother, whom he mourned in his long poem Kaddish (1961), was confined for years in a mental hospital. Ginsberg was influenced in his work by the poet William Carlos Williams, particularly toward the use of natural speech rhythms and direct observations of unadorned actuality.

While at Columbia University, where his anarchical proclivities pained the authorities, Ginsberg became close friends with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, who were later to be numbered among the Beats. After leaving Columbia in 1948, he traveled widely and worked at a number of jobs from cafeteria floor mopper to market researcher.

Howl, Ginsberg’s first published book, laments what he believed to have been the destruction by insanity of the “best minds of [his] generation.” Dithyrambic and prophetic, owing something to the romantic bohemianism of Walt Whitman, it also dwells on homosexuality, drug addiction, Buddhism, and Ginsberg’s revulsion from what he saw as the materialism and insensitivity of post-World War II America.

Empty Mirror, a collection of earlier poems, appeared along with Kaddish and Other Poems in 1961, followed by Reality Sandwiches in 1963. Kaddish, one of Ginsberg’s most important works, is a long confessional poem in which the poet laments his mother’s insanity and tries to come to terms with both his relationship to her and with her death. In the early 1960s Ginsberg began a life of ceaseless travel, reading his poetry at campuses and coffee bars, traveling abroad, and engaging in left-wing political activities. He became an influential guru of the American youth counterculture in the late 1960s. He acquired a deeper knowledge of Buddhism, and increasingly a religious element of love for all sentient beings entered his work.

His later volumes of poetry included Planet News (1968); The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965–1971 (1972), which won the National Book Award; Mind Breaths: Poems 1972–1977 (1978); and White Shroud: Poems 1980–1985 (1986). His Collected Poems 1947–1980 appeared in 1984. Collected Poems, 1947–1997 (2006) is the first comprehensive one-volume collection of Ginsberg’s published poetry. The Letters of Allen Ginsberg was published in 2008, and a collection edited by Bill Morgan and David Stanford that focuses on Ginsberg’s correspondence with Kerouac was published as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters in 2010.
 

 

 


William S. Burroughs






 

William S. Burroughs, in full William Seward Burroughs (b. February 5, 1914, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.—d. August 2, 1997, Lawrence, Kansas), American writer of experimental novels that evoke, in deliberately erratic prose, a nightmarish, sometimes wildly humorous world. His sexual explicitness (he was an avowed and outspoken homosexual) and the frankness with which he dealt with his experiences as a drug addict won him a following among writers of the Beat movement.

Burroughs was the grandson of the inventor of the Burroughs adding machine and grew up in St. Louis in comfortable circumstances, graduating from Harvard University in 1936 and continuing study there in archaeology and ethnology. Having tired of the academic world, he then held a variety of jobs. In 1943 Burroughs moved to New York City, where he became friends with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, two writers who would become principal figures in the Beat movement. Burroughs first took morphine about 1944, and he soon became addicted to heroin. That year Lucien Carr, a member of Burroughs’s social circle, killed a man whom Carr claimed had made sexual advances toward him. Before turning himself in to the police, Carr confessed to Burroughs and Kerouac, who were both arrested as material witnesses. They were later released on bail, and neither man was charged with a crime; Carr was convicted of manslaughter but was later pardoned. In 1945 Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on a fictionalized retelling of those events entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Rejected by publishers at the time, it was not published until 2008.

In 1949 he moved with his second wife to Mexico, where in 1951 he accidentally shot and killed her in a drunken prank. Fleeing Mexico, he wandered through the Amazon region of South America, continuing his experiments with drugs, a period of his life detailed in The Yage Letters, his correspondence with Ginsberg written in 1953 but not published until 1963. Between travels he lived in London, Paris, Tangier, and New York City but in 1981 settled in Lawrence, Kansas.

He used the pen name William Lee in his first published book, Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict (1953, reissued as Junky in 1977), an account of the addict’s life. The Naked Lunch (Paris, 1959; U.S. title, Naked Lunch, 1962; filmed 1991) was completed after his treatment for drug addiction. All forms of addiction, according to Burroughs, are counterproductive for writing, and the only gain to his own work from his 15 years as an addict came from the knowledge he acquired of the bizarre, carnival milieu in which the drug taker is preyed upon as victim. The grotesqueness of this world is vividly satirized in Naked Lunch, which also is much preoccupied with homosexuality and police persecution. In the novels that followed—among them The Soft Machine (1961), The Wild Boys (1971), Exterminator! (1973), Cities of the Red Night (1981), Place of Dead Roads (1983), Queer (1985), The Western Lands (1987), and My Education: A Book of Dreams (1995)—Burroughs further experimented with the structure of the novel. Burroughs (1983), by filmmaker Howard Brookner, is a documentary on the artist’s life.
 





The novel and short story


Realism and “metafiction”

Two distinct groups of novelists responded to the cultural impact, and especially the technological horror, of World War II. Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) and Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions (1948) were realistic war novels, though Mailer’s book was also a novel of ideas, exploring fascist thinking and an obsession with power as elements of the military mind. James Jones, amassing a staggering quantity of closely observed detail, documented the war’s human cost in an ambitious trilogy (From Here to Eternity [1951], The Thin Red Line [1962], and Whistle [1978]) that centred on loners who resisted adapting to military discipline. Younger novelists, profoundly shaken by the bombing of Hiroshima and the real threat of human annihilation, found the conventions of realism inadequate for treating the war’s nightmarish implications. In Catch-22 (1961), Joseph Heller satirized the military mentality with surreal black comedy but also injected a sense of Kafkaesque horror. A sequel, Closing Time (1994), was an elegy for the World War II generation. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), described the Allied firebombing of the German city of Dresden with a mixture of dark fantasy and numb, loopy humour. Later this method was applied brilliantly to the portrayal of the Vietnam War—a conflict that seemed in itself surreal—by Tim O’Brien in Going After Cacciato (1978) and the short-story collection The Things They Carried (1990).

In part because of the atomic bomb, American writers turned increasingly to black humour and absurdist fantasy. Many found the naturalistic approach incapable of communicating the rapid pace and the sheer implausibility of contemporary life. A highly self-conscious fiction emerged, laying bare its own literary devices, questioning the nature of representation, and often imitating or parodying earlier fiction rather than social reality. Russian-born Vladimir Nabokov and the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges were strong influences on this new “metafiction.” Nabokov, who became a U.S. citizen in 1945, produced a body of exquisitely wrought fiction distinguished by linguistic and formal innovation. Despite their artificiality, his best novels written in English—including Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962)—are highly personal books that have a strong emotional thread running through them.

In an important essay, The Literature of Exhaustion (1967), John Barth declared himself an American disciple of Nabokov and Borges. After dismissing realism as a “used up” tradition, Barth described his own work as “novels which imitate the form of the novel, by an author who imitates the role of Author.” In fact, Barth’s earliest fiction, The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958), fell partly within the realistic tradition, but in later, more-ambitious works he simultaneously imitated and parodied conventional forms—the historical novel in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Greek and Christian myths in Giles Goat-Boy (1966), and the epistolary novel in LETTERS (1979). Similarly, Donald Barthelme mocked the fairy tale in Snow White (1967) and Freudian fiction in The Dead Father (1975). Barthelme was most successful in his short stories and parodies that solemnly caricatured contemporary styles, especially the richly suggestive pieces collected in Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968), City Life (1970), and Guilty Pleasures (1974).
 


Norman Mailer



 

Norman Mailer, in full Norman Kingsley Mailer (b. Jan. 31, 1923, Long Branch, N.J., U.S.—d. Nov. 10, 2007, New York, N.Y.), American novelist and journalist, best known for using a form of journalism—called New Journalism—that combines the imaginative subjectivity of literature with the more objective qualities of journalism. Both Mailer’s fiction and his nonfiction made a radical critique of the totalitarianism he believed inherent in the centralized power structure of 20th- and 21st-century America.

Mailer grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Harvard University in 1943 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Drafted into the army in 1944, he served in the Pacific until 1946. While he was enrolled at the Sorbonne, in Paris, he wrote The Naked and the Dead (1948), hailed immediately as one of the finest American novels to come out of World War II.

Mailer’s success at age 25 aroused the expectation that he would develop from a war novelist into the leading literary figure of the postwar generation. But Mailer’s search for themes and forms to give meaningful expression to what he saw as the problems of his time committed him to exploratory works that had little general appeal. His second novel, Barbary Shore (1951), and The Deer Park (1955) were greeted with critical hostility and mixed reviews, respectively. His next important work was a long essay, The White Negro (1957), a sympathetic study of a marginal social type—the “hipster.”

In 1959, when Mailer was generally dismissed as a one-book author, he made a bid for attention with the book Advertisements for Myself, a collection of unfinished stories, parts of novels, essays, reviews, notebook entries, or ideas for fiction. The miscellany’s naked self-revelation won the admiration of a younger generation seeking alternative styles of life and art. Mailer’s subsequent novels, though not critical successes, were widely read as guides to life. An American Dream (1965) is about a man who murders his wife, and Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) is about a young man on an Alaskan hunting trip.

A controversial figure whose egotism and belligerence often antagonized both critics and readers, Mailer did not command the same respect for his fiction that he received for his journalism, which conveyed actual events with the subjective richness and imaginative complexity of a novel. The Armies of the Night (1968), for example, was based on the Washington peace demonstrations of October 1967, during which Mailer was jailed and fined for an act of civil disobedience; it won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. A similar treatment was given the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions in Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968) and the Moon exploration in Of a Fire on the Moon (1970).

In 1969 Mailer ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City. Among his other works are his essay collections The Presidential Papers (1963) and Cannibals and Christians (1966); The Executioner’s Song (1979), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel based on the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore; Ancient Evenings (1983), a novel set in ancient Egypt, the first volume of an uncompleted trilogy; Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984), a contemporary mystery thriller; and the enormous Harlot’s Ghost (1991), a novel focusing on the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1995 Mailer published Oswald’s Tale, an exhaustive nonfictional portrayal of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy’s assassin. Mailer’s final two novels intertwined religion and historical figures: The Gospel According to the Son (1997) is a first-person “memoir” purportedly written by Jesus Christ, and The Castle in the Forest (2007), narrated by a devil, tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s boyhood.

In 2003 Mailer published two works of nonfiction: The Spooky Art, his reflections on writing, and Why Are We at War?, an essay questioning the Iraq War. On God (2007) records conversations about religion between Mailer and the scholar Michael Lennon.
 

 

 


Irwin Shaw



 

Irwin Shaw, original name Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff (b. Feb. 27, 1913, New York, N.Y., U.S.—d. May 16, 1984, Davos, Switz.), prolific American playwright, screenwriter, and author of critically acclaimed short stories and best-selling novels.

Shaw studied at Brooklyn College (B.A., 1934) and at age 21 began his career by writing the scripts of the popular Andy Gump and Dick Tracy radio shows. He wrote his pacifist one-act play Bury the Dead for a 1935 contest; though it lost, the play appeared on Broadway the next year, the first of his 12 plays that were professionally produced. He wrote the first of his many screenplays, The Big Game, in 1936. Throughout the later 1930s popular magazines such as The New Yorker and Esquire published his short stories; they were praised for their plotting, their naturalness of narration, and especially their characterization.

Shaw’s experiences in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II led to his writing The Young Lions (1948; filmed 1958), a novel about three young soldiers—one German and two Americans—in wartime; it became a best-seller, and thereafter Shaw devoted most of the rest of his career to writing novels. Among the best known of his 12 novels are Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), Evening in Byzantium (1973), and Beggarman, Thief (1977). Probably his most popular novel, though it was derided by critics, was Rich Man, Poor Man (1970), which was the source of the first television miniseries. Shaw’s novels and stories were the basis of several movies, including Take One False Step (1949), Tip on a Dead Jockey (1958), and Three (1969).
 

 

 


Joseph Heller



 

Joseph Heller, (b. May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.—d. Dec. 12, 1999, East Hampton, N.Y.), American writer whose novel Catch-22 (1961) was one of the most significant works of protest literature to appear after World War II. The satirical novel was a popular success, and a film version appeared in 1970.

During World War II, Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. After receiving an M.A. at Columbia University in 1949, he studied at the University of Oxford (1949–50) as a Fulbright scholar. He taught English at Pennsylvania State University (1950–52) and worked as an advertising copywriter for the magazines Time (1952–56) and Look (1956–58) and as promotion manager for McCall’s (1958–61), meanwhile writing Catch-22 in his spare time.

Released to mixed reviews, Catch-22 developed a cult following with its dark surrealism. Centring on the antihero Captain John Yossarian, stationed at an airstrip on a Mediterranean island during World War II, the novel portrays the airman’s desperate attempts to stay alive. The “catch” in Catch-22 involves a mysterious Air Force regulation that asserts that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions; but, if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. The term catch-22 thereafter entered the English language as a reference to a proviso that trips one up no matter which way one turns.

Heller’s later novels, including Something Happened (1974), an unrelievedly pessimistic novel, Good as Gold (1979), a satire on life in Washington, D.C., and God Knows (1984), a wry, contemporary-vernacular monologue in the voice of the biblical King David, were less successful. Closing Time, a sequel to Catch-22, appeared in 1994. Heller also wrote an autobiography, Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here (1998), and his dramatic work includes the play We Bombed in New Haven (1968).
 

 

 


Kurt Vonnegut





 

Kurt Vonnegut, in full Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (b. Nov. 11, 1922, Indianapolis, Ind., U.S.—d. April 11, 2007, New York, N.Y.), American novelist noted for his pessimistic and satirical novels that use fantasy and science fiction to highlight the horrors and ironies of 20th-century civilization.

Vonnegut studied at Cornell University before serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. Captured by the Germans, he was one of the survivors of the fire bombing of Dresden, Ger., in February 1945. After the war he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago. In the late 1940s he worked as a reporter and as a public relations writer.

Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (1952), visualizes a completely mechanized and automated society whose dehumanizing effects are unsuccessfully resisted by the scientists and workers in a New York factory town. The Sirens of Titan (1959) is a quasi-science-fiction novel in which the entire history of the human race is considered an accident attendant on an alien planet’s search for a spare part for a spaceship. In Cat’s Cradle (1963), some Caribbean islanders adopt a new religion consisting of harmless trivialities in response to an unforeseen scientific discovery that eventually destroys all life on Earth. In Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade (1969), Vonnegut drew on his Dresden experience; the book uses that bombing raid as a symbol of the cruelty and destructiveness of war down through the centuries.

Vonnegut also wrote several plays, including Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970); several works of nonfiction, such as Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (1974); and several collections of short stories, chief among which was Welcome to the Monkey House (1968). His other novels include Mother Night (1961), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1983), Galápagos (1985), Bluebeard (1987), Hocus Pocus (1990), and Timequake (1997). In 2005 he published A Man Without a Country, a collection of essays and speeches. Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect (2008), a collection of fiction and nonfiction that focuses on war and peace, and Look at the Birdie (2009), previously unpublished short stories, appeared posthumously.
 

 

 


John Barth



 

John Barth, in full John Simmons Barth, Jr. (b. May 27, 1930, Cambridge, Md., U.S.), American writer best known for novels that combine philosophical depth and complexity with biting satire and boisterous, frequently bawdy humour. Much of Barth’s writing is concerned with the seeming impossibility of choosing the right action in a world that has no absolute values.

Barth grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, the locale of most of his writing, and studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he graduated with an M.A. in 1952. The next year, he began teaching at Pennsylvania State University; he moved in 1965 to the State University of New York at Buffalo as professor of English and writer in residence. He was a professor of English and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University from 1973 to 1995.

Barth’s first two novels, The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958), describe characters burdened by a sense of the futility of all action and the effects of these characters upon the less self-conscious, more active people around them. Barth forsook realism and modern settings in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), a picaresque tale that burlesques the early history of Maryland and parodies the 18th-century English novel. All three novels appeared in revised editions in 1967.

Giles Goat-Boy (1966) is a bizarre tale of the career of a mythical hero and religious prophet, set in a satirical microcosm of vast, computer-run universities. His work Lost in the Funhouse (1968) consists of short, experimental pieces, some designed for performance, interspersed with short stories based on his own childhood. It was followed by Chimera (1972), a volume of three novellas, and Letters (1979), an experimental novel. The novels Sabbatical (1982) and The Tidewater Tales (1987) are more traditional narratives. Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera (1994) combined the genres of novel and memoir in the form of a three-act opera. The novel Coming Soon!!! (2001) revisits The Floating Opera and is arguably Barth’s most conspicuously self-conscious work. The Book of Ten Nights and a Night (2004) and The Development (2008) are collections of interconnected short stories.
 

 

 


Donald Barthelme


 

Donald Barthelme, (b. April 7, 1931, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.—d. July 23, 1989, Houston, Texas), American short-story writer known for his modernist “collages,” which were marked by technical experimentation and a kind of melancholy gaiety.

A one-time journalist, Barthelme was managing editor of Location, an art and literature review, and director (1961–62) of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. In 1964 he published his first collection of short stories, Come Back, Dr. Caligari. His first novel, Snow White (1967), initially was published in The New Yorker, a magazine to which he was a regular contributor. Other collections of stories include City Life (1970), Sadness (1972), Sixty Stories (1981), and Overnight to Many Distant Cities (1983). He wrote three additional novels: The Dead Father (1975), Paradise (1986), and The King (1990). His children’s book, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine or the Hithering Thithering Djinn (1971), won the National Book Award in 1972. He was distinguished visiting professor of English (1974–75) at the City College of the City University of New York. Flying to America: 45 More Stories, a posthumous collection of previously unpublished or uncollected stories, was published in 2007.
 



Thomas Pynchon emerged as the major American practitioner of the absurdist fable. His novels and stories were elaborately plotted mixtures of historical information, comic-book fantasy, and countercultural suspicion. Using paranoia as a structuring device as well as a cast of mind, Pynchon worked out elaborate “conspiracies” in V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). The underlying assumption of Pynchon’s fiction was the inevitability of entropy—i.e., the disintegration of physical and moral energy. Pynchon’s technique was later to influence writers as different as Don DeLillo and Paul Auster. In The Naked Lunch (1959) and other novels, William S. Burroughs, abandoning plot and coherent characterization, used a drug addict’s consciousness to depict a hideous modern landscape. Vonnegut, Terry Southern, and John Hawkes were also major practitioners of black humour and the absurdist fable. Other influential portraits of outsider figures included the Beat characters in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), Desolation Angels (1965), and Visions of Cody (1972); the young Rabbit Angstrom in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run (1960) and Rabbit Redux (1971); Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951); and the troubling madman in Richard Yates’s powerful novel of suburban life, Revolutionary Road (1961).

Though writers such as Barth, Barthelme, and Pynchon rejected the novel’s traditional function as a mirror reflecting society, a significant number of contemporary novelists were reluctant to abandon Social Realism, which they pursued in much more personal terms. In novels such as The Victim (1947), The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970), and Humboldt’s Gift (1975), Saul Bellow tapped into the buoyant, manic energy and picaresque structure of black humour while proclaiming the necessity of “being human.”

Though few contemporary writers saw the ugliness of urban life more clearly than Bellow, his central characters rejected the “Wasteland outlook” that he associated with Modernism. A spiritual vision, derived from sources as diverse as Judaism, Transcendentalism, and Rudolph Steiner’s cultish theosophy, found its way into Bellow’s later novels, but he also wrote darker fictions such as the novella Seize the Day (1956), a study in failure and blocked emotion that was perhaps his best work. With the publication of Ravelstein (2000), his fictional portrait of the scholar-writer Allan Bloom, and of Collected Stories (2001), Bellow was acclaimed as a portraitist and a poet of memory.
 


Thomas Pynchon



 

Thomas Pynchon, (b. May 8, 1937, Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., U.S.), American novelist and short-story writer whose works combine black humour and fantasy to depict human alienation in the chaos of modern society.

After earning his B.A. in English from Cornell University in 1958, Pynchon spent a year in Greenwich Village writing short stories and working on a novel. In 1960 he was hired as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle, Wash. Two years later he decided to leave the company and write full-time. In 1963 Pynchon won the Faulkner Foundation Award for his first novel, V. (1963), a whimsical, cynically absurd tale of a middle-aged Englishman’s search for “V,” an elusive, supernatural adventuress appearing in various guises at critical periods in European history. In his next book, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Pynchon described a woman’s strange quest to discover the mysterious, conspiratorial Tristero System in a futuristic world of closed societies. The novel serves as a condemnation of modern industrialization.

Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) is a tour de force in 20th-century literature. In exploring the dilemmas of human beings in the modern world, the story, which is set in an area of post-World War II Germany called “the Zone,” centres on the wanderings of an American soldier who is one of many odd characters looking for a secret V-2 rocket that will supposedly break through the Earth’s gravitational barrier when launched. The narrative is filled with descriptions of obsessive and paranoid fantasies, ridiculous and grotesque imagery, and esoteric mathematical and scientific language. For his efforts Pynchon received the National Book Award, and many critics deemed Gravity’s Rainbow a visionary, apocalyptic masterpiece. Pynchon’s next novel, Vineland—which begins in 1984 in California—was not published until 1990. Two vast, complex historical novels followed: in Mason & Dixon (1997), set in the 18th century, Pynchon took the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as his subject, while Against the Day (2006) moves from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 through World War I. Inherent Vice (2009), Pynchon’s rambling take on the detective novel, returns to the California counterculture milieu of Vineland.

Of his few short stories, most notable are “Entropy” (1960), a neatly structured tale in which Pynchon first uses extensive technical language and scientific metaphors, and “The Secret Integration” (1964), a story in which Pynchon explores small-town bigotry and racism. The collection Slow Learner (1984) contains “The Secret Integration.”
 

 

 


J.D. Salinger



 

J.D. Salinger, in full Jerome David Salinger (b. Jan. 1, 1919, New York, N.Y., U.S.—d. Jan. 27, 2010, Cornish, N.H.), American writer whose novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951) won critical acclaim and devoted admirers, especially among the post-World War II generation of college students. His entire corpus of published works consists of that one novel and 13 short stories, all originally written in the period 1948–59.

Salinger was the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and, like Holden Caulfield, the hero of The Catcher in the Rye, he grew up in New York City, attending public schools and a military academy. After brief periods at New York and Columbia universities, he devoted himself entirely to writing, and his stories began to appear in periodicals in 1940. After his return from service in the U.S. Army (1942–46), Salinger’s name and writing style became increasingly associated with The New Yorker magazine, which published almost all of his later stories. Some of the best of these made use of his wartime experiences: “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” (1950) describes a U.S. soldier’s poignant encounter with two British children; “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948) concerns the suicide of the sensitive, despairing veteran Seymour Glass.

Major critical and popular recognition came with the publication of The Catcher in the Rye, whose central character, a sensitive, rebellious adolescent, relates in authentic teenage idiom his flight from the “phony” adult world, his search for innocence and truth, and his final collapse on a psychiatrist’s couch. The humour and colourful language of The Catcher in the Rye place it in the tradition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the stories of Ring Lardner, but its hero, like most of Salinger’s child characters, views his life with an added dimension of precocious self-consciousness. Nine Stories (1953), a selection of Salinger’s best work, added to his reputation.

The reclusive habits of Salinger in his later years made his personal life a matter of speculation among devotees, while his small literary output was a subject of controversy among critics. Franny and Zooey (1961) brought together two earlier New Yorker stories; both deal with the Glass family, as do the two stories in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction (1963).
 

 

 


Saul Bellow



 

Saul Bellow, (b. June 10, 1915, Lachine, near Montreal, Quebec, Canada—d. April 5, 2005, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.), American novelist whose characterizations of modern urban man, disaffected by society but not destroyed in spirit, earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Brought up in a Jewish household and fluent in Yiddish—which influenced his energetic English style—he was representative of the Jewish American writers whose works became central to American literature after World War II.

Bellow’s parents emigrated in 1913 from Russia to Montreal. When he was nine they moved to Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University (B.S., 1937) and afterward combined writing with a teaching career at various universities, including the University of Minnesota, Princeton University, New York University, Bard College, the University of Chicago, and Boston University.

Bellow won a reputation among a small group of readers with his first two novels, Dangling Man (1944), a story in diary form of a man waiting to be inducted into the army, and The Victim (1947), a subtle study of the relationship between a Jew and a Gentile, each of whom becomes the other’s victim. The Adventures of Augie March (1953) brought wider acclaim and won the National Book Award (1954). It is a picaresque story of a poor Jewish youth from Chicago, his progress—sometimes highly comic—through the world of the 20th century, and his attempts to make sense of it. In this novel Bellow employed for the first time a loose, breezy style in conscious revolt against the preoccupation of writers of that time with perfection of form.

Henderson the Rain King (1959) continued the picaresque approach in its tale of an eccentric American millionaire on a quest in Africa. Seize the Day (1956), a novella, is a unique treatment of a failure in a society where the only success is success. He also wrote a volume of short stories, Mosby’s Memoirs (1968), and To Jerusalem and Back (1976) about a trip to Israel.

In his later novels and novellas—Herzog (1964; National Book Award, 1965), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970; National Book Award, 1971), Humboldt’s Gift (1975; Pulitzer Prize, 1976), The Dean’s December (1982), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), and The Actual (1997)—Bellow arrived at his most characteristic vein. The heroes of these works are often Jewish intellectuals whose interior monologues range from the sublime to the absurd. At the same time, their surrounding world, peopled by energetic and incorrigible realists, acts as a corrective to their intellectual speculations. It is this combination of cultural sophistication and the wisdom of the streets that constitutes Bellow’s greatest originality. In Ravelstein (2000) he presented a fictional version of the life of teacher and philosopher Allan Bloom.
 




Four other major Jewish writers—Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, Philip Roth, and Isaac Bashevis Singer—treated the human condition with humour and forgiveness.
Malamud’s gift for dark comedy and Hawthornean fable was especially evident in his short-story collections The Magic Barrel (1958) and Idiots First (1963). His first three novels, The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and A New Life (1961), were also impressive works of fiction; The Assistant had the bleak moral intensity of his best stories.
Paley’s stories combined an offbeat, whimsically poetic manner with a wry understanding of the ironies of family life and progressive politics.

While Roth was known best for the wild satire and sexual high jinks of Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), a hilarious stand-up routine about ethnic stereotypes, his most lasting achievement may be his later novels built around the misadventures of a controversial Jewish novelist named Zuckerman, especially The Ghost Writer (1979), The Anatomy Lesson (1983), and, above all, The Counterlife (1987). Like many of his later works, from My Life as a Man (1974) to Operation Shylock (1993), The Counterlife plays ingeniously on the relationship between autobiography and fiction. His best later work was his bitter, deliberately offensive story of a self-destructive artist, Sabbath’s Theater (1995). Returning to realism, but without his former self-absorption, Roth won new readers with his trilogy on recent American history—American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000)—and with The Plot Against America (2004), a counter-historical novel about the coming of fascism in the United States during World War II.

The Polish-born Singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978 for his stories, written originally in Yiddish. They evolved from fantastic tales of demons and angels to realistic fictions set in New York City’s Upper West Side, often dealing with the haunted lives of Holocaust survivors. These works showed him to be one of the great storytellers of modern times.

Another great storyteller, John Cheever, long associated with The New Yorker magazine, created in his short stories and novels a gallery of memorable eccentrics. He documented the anxieties of upper-middle-class New Yorkers and suburbanites in the relatively tranquil years after World War II. The sexual and moral confusion of the American middle class was the focus of the work of J.D. Salinger and Richard Yates, as well as of John Updike’s Rabbit series (four novels from Rabbit, Run [1960] to Rabbit at Rest [1990]), Couples (1968), and Too Far to Go (1979), a sequence of tales about the quiet disintegration of a civilized marriage, a subject Updike revisited in a retrospective work, Villages (2004).

In sharp contrast, Nelson Algren (The Man with the Golden Arm [1949]) and Hubert Selby, Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn [1964]), documented lower-class urban life with brutal frankness. Similarly, John Rechy portrayed America’s urban homosexual subculture in City of Night (1963). As literary and social mores were liberalized, Cheever himself dealt with homosexuality in his prison novel Falconer (1977) and even more explicitly in his personal journals, published posthumously in 1991.
 


Bernard Malamud




 

Bernard Malamud, (b. April 26, 1914, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.—d. March 18, 1986, New York, N.Y.), American novelist and short-story writer who made parables out of Jewish immigrant life.

Malamud’s parents were Russian Jews who had fled tsarist Russia. He was born in Brooklyn, where his father owned a small grocery store. The family was poor. Malamud’s mother died when he was 15 years old, and he was unhappy when his father remarried. He early on assumed responsibility for his handicapped brother. Malamud was educated at the City College of New York (B.A., 1936) and Columbia University (M.A., 1942). He taught at high schools in New York City (1940–49), at Oregon State University (1949–61), and at Bennington College in Vermont (1961–66, 1968–86).

His first novel, The Natural (1952; filmed 1984), is a fable about a baseball hero who is gifted with miraculous powers. The Assistant (1957) is about a young Gentile hoodlum and an old Jewish grocer. The Fixer (1966) takes place in tsarist Russia. The story of a Jewish handyman unjustly imprisoned for the murder of a Christian boy, it won Malamud a Pulitzer Prize. His other novels are A New Life (1961), The Tenants (1971), Dubin’s Lives (1979), and God’s Grace (1982).

Malamud’s genius is most apparent in his short stories. Though told in a spare, compressed prose that reflects the terse speech of their immigrant characters, the stories often burst into emotional, metaphorical language. Grim city neighbourhoods are visited by magical events, and their hardworking residents are given glimpses of love and self-sacrifice. Malamud’s short-story collections are The Magic Barrel (1958), Idiots First (1963), Pictures of Fidelman (1969), and Rembrandt’s Hat (1973). The Stories of Bernard Malamud appeared in 1983, and The People and Uncollected Stories was published posthumously in 1989. The People, an unfinished novel, tells the story of a Jewish immigrant adopted by a 19th-century American Indian tribe. One critic spoke of “its moral sinew and its delicacy of tone.”
 

 

 


Philip Roth




 

Philip Roth, in full Philip Milton Roth (b. March 19, 1933, Newark, N.J., U.S.), American novelist and short-story writer whose works are characterized by an acute ear for dialogue, a concern with Jewish middle-class life, and the painful entanglements of sexual and familial love. In Roth’s later years his works were informed by an increasingly naked preoccupation with mortality and with the failure of the aging body and mind.

Roth received an M.A. from the University of Chicago and taught there and elsewhere. He first achieved fame with Goodbye Columbus (1959; film 1969), whose title story candidly depicts the boorish materialism of a Jewish middle-class suburban family. Roth’s first novel, Letting Go (1962), was followed in 1967 by When She Was Good, but he did not recapture the success of his first book until Portnoy’s Complaint (1969; film 1972), an audacious satirical portrait of a contemporary Jewish male at odds with his domineering mother and obsessed with sexual experience. Several minor works, including The Breast (1972), My Life As a Man (1974), and The Professor of Desire (1977), were followed by one of Roth’s most important novels, The Ghost Writer (1979), which introduced an aspiring young writer named Nathan Zuckerman. Roth’s two subsequent novels, Zuckerman Unbound (1981) and The Anatomy Lesson (1983), trace his writer-protagonist’s subsequent life and career and constitute Roth’s first Zuckerman trilogy. These three novels were republished together with the novella The Prague Orgy under the title Zuckerman Bound (1985). A fourth Zuckerman novel, The Counterlife, appeared in 1993.

Roth was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral (1997), a novel about a middle-class couple whose daughter becomes a terrorist. It is the first novel of a second Zuckerman trilogy, completed by I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000; film 2003). In The Dying Animal (2001; filmed as Elegy, 2008), an aging literary professor reflects on a life of emotional isolation. The Plot Against America (2004) tells a counterhistorical story of fascism in the United States during World War II. With Everyman (2006), a novel that explores illness and death, Roth became the first three-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which he had won previously for Operation Shylock (1993) and The Human Stain. Exit Ghost (2007) revisits Zuckerman, who has been reawoken to life’s possibilities after more than a decade of self-imposed exile in the Berkshire Mountains. Indignation (2008) is narrated from the afterlife by a man who died at age 19. The novella The Humbling (2009) revisits Everyman’s mortality-obsessed terrain, this time through the lens of an aging actor who, realizing that he has lost his talent, finds himself unable to work.
 

 

 


Isaac Bashevis Singer



 

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yiddish in full Yitskhok Bashevis Zinger (b. July 14?, 1904, Radzymin, Pol., Russian Empire—d. July 24, 1991, Surfside, Fla., U.S.), Polish-born American writer of novels, short stories, and essays in Yiddish. He was the recipient in 1978 of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His fiction, depicting Jewish life in Poland and the United States, is remarkable for its rich blending of irony, wit, and wisdom, flavoured distinctively with the occult and the grotesque.

Singer’s birth date is uncertain and has been variously reported as July 14, November 21, and October 26. He came from a family of Hasidic rabbis on his father’s side and a long line of Mitnagdic rabbis on his mother’s side. He received a traditional Jewish education at the Warsaw Rabbinical Seminary. His older brother was the novelist I.J. Singer and his sister the writer Esther Kreytman (Kreitman). Like his brother, Singer preferred being a writer to being a rabbi. In 1925 he made his debut with the story “Af der elter” (“In Old Age”), which he published in the Warsaw Literarishe bleter under a pseudonym. His first novel, Der Sotn in Goray (Satan in Goray), was published in installments in Poland shortly before he immigrated to the United States in 1935.

Settling in New York City, as his brother had done a year earlier, Singer worked for the Yiddish newspaper Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward), and as a journalist he signed his articles with the pseudonym Varshavski or D. Segal. He also translated many books into Yiddish from Hebrew, Polish, and, particularly, German, among them works by Thomas Mann and Erich Maria Remarque. In 1943 he became a U.S. citizen.

Although Singer’s works became most widely known in their English versions, he continued to write almost exclusively in Yiddish, personally supervising the translations. The relationship between his works in these two languages is complex: some of his novels and short stories were published in Yiddish in the Forverts, for which he wrote until his death, and then appeared in book form only in English translation. Several, however, later also appeared in book form in the original Yiddish after the success of the English translation. Among his most important novels are The Family Moskat (1950; Di familye Mushkat, 1950), The Magician of Lublin (1960; Der kuntsnmakher fun Lublin, 1971), and The Slave (1962; Der knekht, 1967). The Manor (1967) and The Estate (1969) are based on Der hoyf, serialized in the Forverts in 1953–55. Enemies: A Love Story (1972; film 1989) was translated from Sonim: di geshikhte fun a libe, serialized in the Forverts in 1966. Shosha, derived from autobiographical material Singer published in the Forverts in the mid-1970s, appeared in English in 1978. Der bal-tshuve (1974) was published first in book form in Yiddish; it was later translated into English as The Penitent (1983). Shadows on the Hudson, translated into English and published posthumously in 1998, is a novel on a grand scale about Jewish refugees in New York in the late 1940s. The book had been serialized in the Forverts in the 1950s.

Singer’s popular collections of short stories in English translation include Gimpel the Fool, and Other Stories (1957; Gimpl tam, un andere dertseylungen, 1963), The Spinoza of Market Street (1961), Short Friday (1964), The Seance (1968), A Crown of Feathers (1973; National Book Award), Old Love (1979), and The Image, and Other Stories (1985).

Singer evokes in his writings the vanished world of Polish Jewry as it existed before the Holocaust. His most ambitious novels—The Family Moskat and the continuous narrative spun out in The Manor and The Estate—have large casts of characters and extend over several generations. These books chronicle the changes in, and eventual breakup of, large Jewish families during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as their members are differently affected by the secularism and assimilationist opportunities of the modern era. Singer’s shorter novels examine characters variously tempted by evil, such as the brilliant circus magician of The Magician of Lublin, the 17th-century Jewish villagers crazed by messianism in Satan in Goray, and the enslaved Jewish scholar in The Slave. His short stories are saturated with Jewish folklore, legends, and mysticism and display his incisive understanding of the weaknesses inherent in human nature.

Schlemiel Went to Warsaw, and Other Stories (1968) is one of his best-known books for children. In 1966 he published In My Father’s Court, based on the Yiddish Mayn tatns besdn shtub (1956), an autobiographical account of his childhood in Warsaw. This work received special praise from the Swedish Academy when Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize. More Stories from My Father’s Court, published posthumously in 2000, includes childhood stories Singer had first published in the Forverts in the 1950s. His memoir Love and Exile appeared in 1984.

Several films have been adapted from Singer’s works, including The Magician of Lublin (1979), based on his novel of the same name, and Yentl (1983), based on his story “Yentl” in Mayses fun hintern oyvn (1971; “Stories from Behind the Stove”).

Sheva Zucker
 

 

 


John Cheever




 

John Cheever, (b. May 27, 1912, Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.—d. June 18, 1982, Ossining, New York), American short-story writer and novelist whose work describes, often through fantasy and ironic comedy, the life, manners, and morals of middle-class, suburban America. Cheever has been called “the Chekhov of the suburbs” for his ability to capture the drama and sadness of the lives of his characters by revealing the undercurrents of apparently insignificant events. Known as a moralist, he judges his characters from the standpoint of traditional morality.

Cheever himself was born into a middle-class family, his father being employed in the shoe business then booming in New England. With the eventual failure of the shoe industry and the difficulties of his parents’ marriage, he had an unhappy adolescence. His expulsion at age 17 from the Thayer Academy in Massachusetts provided the theme for his first published story, which appeared in The New Republic in 1930. During the Great Depression he lived in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Cheever married in 1941 and had three children. In 1942 he enlisted in the army to train as an infantryman, but the army soon reassigned him to the Signal Corps as a scriptwriter for training films. After the war Cheever and his wife moved from New York City to the suburbs, whose culture and mores are often examined in his subsequent fiction.

Cheever’s name was closely associated with The New Yorker, a periodical that published many of his stories, but his works also appeared in The New Republic, Collier’s, Story, and The Atlantic. A master of the short story, Cheever worked from “the interrupted event,” which he considered the prime source of short stories. He was famous for his clear and elegant prose and his careful fashioning of incidents and anecdotes. He is perhaps best-known for the two stories “The Enormous Radio” (1947) and “The Swimmer” (1964; filmed 1968). In the former story a young couple discovers that their new radio receives the conversations of other people in their apartment building but that this fascinating look into other people’s problems does not solve their own. In “The Swimmer” a suburban man decides to swim his way home in the backyard pools of his neighbours and finds on the way that he is a lost soul in several senses. Cheever’s first collection of short stories, The Way Some People Live (1943), was followed by many others, including The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953) and The Brigadier and the Golf Widow (1964). The Stories of John Cheever (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Cheever’s ability in his short stories to focus on the episodic caused him difficulty in constructing extended narratives in his novels. Nonetheless, his first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle (1957)—a satire on, among other subjects, the misuses of wealth and psychology—earned him the National Book Award. Its sequel, The Wapshot Scandal (1964), was less successful. Falconer (1977) is the dark tale of a drug-addicted college professor who is imprisoned for murdering his brother. Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982) is an elegiac story about a New Englander’s efforts to preserve the quality of his life and that of a mill town’s pond. The Letters of John Cheever, edited by his son Benjamin Cheever, was published in 1988, and in 1991 The Journals of John Cheever appeared. The latter is deeply revealing of both the man and the writer.
 



Raymond Douglas "Ray" Bradbury is an American fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and for the science fiction stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951), Bradbury is one of the most celebrated among 20th and 21st century American writers of speculative fiction. Many of Bradbury's works have been adapted into television shows or films.

Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards. His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.

Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called "the dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of the genre. He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality. He was one of the first writers to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s, with unvarnished science fiction. He was among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era. For many years, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and
Arthur C. Clarke were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.
 


Ray Bradbury




 

Ray Bradbury, in full Ray Douglas Bradbury (b. Aug. 22, 1920, Waukegan, Ill., U.S.), American author best known for highly imaginative science-fiction short stories and novels that blend social criticism with an awareness of the hazards of runaway technology.

Bradbury published his first story in 1940 and was soon contributing widely to magazines. His first book of short stories, Dark Carnival (1947), was followed by The Martian Chronicles (1950), which is generally accounted a science-fiction classic in its depiction of materialistic Earthmen exploiting and corrupting an idyllic Martian civilization. Bradbury’s other important short-story collections include The Illustrated Man (1951), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), The October Country (1955), A Medicine for Melancholy (1959), The Machineries of Joy (1964), I Sing the Body Electric! (1969), and Quicker Than the Eye (1996). His novels include Fahrenheit 451 (1953; filmed 1966); Dandelion Wine (1957) and its sequel, Farewell Summer (2006); Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962; filmed 1983); and Death Is a Lonely Business (1985). He wrote stage plays, television scripts, and several screenplays, including Moby Dick (1956; in collaboration with John Huston). In the 1970s Bradbury wrote several volumes of poetry, and in the 1970s and ’80s he concentrated on writing children’s stories and crime fiction. His short stories have been published in more than 700 anthologies. In 2007 the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded Bradbury a Special Citation for his distinguished career.
 

 

 


Isaac Asimov




 

Isaac Asimov, (b. January 2, 1920, Petrovichi, Russia—d. April 6, 1992, New York, New York, U.S.), American author and biochemist, a highly successful and prolific writer of science fiction and of science books for the layperson. He published about 500 volumes.

Asimov was brought to the United States at age three. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, graduating from Columbia University in 1939 and taking a Ph.D. there in 1948. He then joined the faculty of Boston University, with which he remained associated thereafter.

Asimov began contributing stories to science-fiction magazines in 1939 and in 1950 published his first book, Pebble in the Sky. His trilogy of novels, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation (1951–53), which recounts the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire in the universe of the future, is his most famous work of science fiction. In the short-story collection I, Robot (1950; filmed 2004), he developed a set of ethics for robots and intelligent machines that greatly influenced other writers’ treatment of the subject. His other novels and collections of stories included The Stars, like Dust (1951), The Currents of Space (1952), The Caves of Steel (1954), The Naked Sun (1957), Earth Is Room Enough (1957), Foundation’s Edge (1982), and The Robots of Dawn (1983). His “Nightfall” (1941) is thought by many to be the finest science-fiction short story ever written. Among Asimov’s books on various topics in science, written with lucidity and humour, are The Chemicals of Life (1954), Inside the Atom (1956), The World of Nitrogen (1958), Life and Energy (1962), The Human Brain (1964), The Neutrino (1966), Science, Numbers, and I (1968), Our World in Space (1974), and Views of the Universe (1981). He also published two volumes of autobiography.
 

 

 


Robert Anson Heinlein





Robert A. Heinlein, (b. July 7, 1907, Butler, Mo., U.S.—d. May 8, 1988, Carmel, Calif.), prolific American writer considered to be one of the most literary and sophisticated of science-fiction writers. He did much to develop the genre.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929 and serving in the Navy for five years, Heinlein pursued graduate studies in physics and mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles. Except for engineering service with the Navy during World War II, he was an established professional writer from 1939.

His first story, “Life-Line,” was published in the action-adventure pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. He continued to write for that publication—along with other notable science-fiction writers—until 1942, when he began war work as an engineer. Heinlein returned to writing in 1947, with an eye toward a more sophisticated audience. His first book, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), was followed by a large number of novels and story collections, including works for children and young adults. After the 1940s he largely avoided shorter fiction. His popularity grew over the years, probably reaching its peak after the publication of his best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). His broad interests and concern for characterization as well as technology brought him a considerable number of admirers among general-interest readers. Among his more popular books are The Green Hills of Earth (1951), Double Star (1956), The Door into Summer (1957), Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), and Methuselah’s Children (1958).
 




Southern fiction

Post-World War II Southern writers inherited Faulkner’s rich legacy. Three women—Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers—specialists in the grotesque, contributed greatly to Southern fiction. O’Connor, writing as a Roman Catholic in the Protestant South, created a high comedy of moral incongruity in her incomparable short stories. Welty, always a brilliant stylist, first came to prominence with her collections of short fiction A Curtain of Green (1941) and The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943). Her career culminated with a large family novel, Losing Battles (1970), and a fine novella, The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), which was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. McCullers is best remembered for her first book, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), an intricate gothic novel set in a small town in the Deep South. She also published Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), The Member of the Wedding (1946), and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951), all later adapted to the stage or screen. Other fine storytellers in the Southern tradition include Elizabeth Spencer, whose short fiction was collected in The Southern Woman (2001), and Reynolds Price, whose best novels were A Long and Happy Life (1961) and Kate Vaiden (1986). Initially known for his lyrical portraits of Southern eccentrics (Other Voices, Other Rooms [1948]),
Truman Capote later published In Cold Blood (1966), a cold but impressive piece of documentary realism that contributed, along with the work of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, to the emergence of a “new journalism” that used many of the techniques of fiction.

William Styron’s overripe first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), clearly revealed the influence of Faulkner. In two controversial later works, Styron fictionalized the dark side of modern history: The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) depicted an antebellum slave revolt, and Sophie’s Choice (1979) unsuccessfully sought to capture the full horror of the Holocaust. Inspired by Faulkner and Mark Twain, William Humphrey wrote two powerful novels set in Texas, Home from the Hill (1958) and The Ordways (1965). The Moviegoer (1961) and The Last Gentleman (1966) established Walker Percy as an important voice in Southern fiction. Their musing philosophical style broke sharply with the Southern gothic tradition and influenced later writers such as Richard Ford in The Sportswriter (1986) and its moving sequel, Independence Day (1995). Equally impressive were the novels and stories of Peter Taylor, an impeccable Social Realist, raconteur, and genial novelist of manners who recalled a bygone world in works such as The Old Forest (1985) and A Summons to Memphis (1986).



African American literature

Black writers of this period found alternatives to the Richard Wright tradition of angry social protest. James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, both protégés of Wright, wrote polemical essays calling for a literature that reflected the full complexity of black life in the United States. In his first and best novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Baldwin portrayed the Harlem world and the black church through his own adolescent religious experiences. Drawing on rural folktale, absurdist humour, and a picaresque realism, Ralph Ellison wrote a deeply resonant comic novel that dealt with the full range of black experience—rural sharecropping, segregated education, northward migration, ghetto hustling, and the lure of such competing ideologies as nationalism and communism. Many considered his novel Invisible Man (1952) the best novel of the postwar years.

Later two African American women published some of the most important post-World War II American fiction. In The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998), Toni Morrison created a strikingly original fiction that sounded different notes from lyrical recollection to magic realism. Like Ellison, Morrison drew on diverse literary and folk influences and dealt with important phases of black history—i.e., slavery in Beloved and the Harlem Renaissance in Jazz. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Alice Walker, after writing several volumes of poetry and an interesting novel dealing with the civil rights movement (Meridian [1976]), received the Pulitzer Prize for her black feminist novel The Color Purple (1982). African American men whose work gained attention during this period included Ishmael Reed, whose wild comic techniques resembled Ellison’s; James Alan McPherson, a subtle short-story writer in the mold of Ellison and Baldwin; Charles Johnson, whose novels, such as The Oxherding Tale (1982) and The Middle Passage (1990), showed a masterful historical imagination; Randall Kenan, a gay writer with a strong folk imagination whose style also descended from both Ellison and Baldwin; and Colson Whitehead, who used experimental techniques and folk traditions in The Intuitionist (1999) and John Henry Days (2001).



New fictional modes

The horrors of World War II, the Cold War and the atomic bomb, the bizarre feast of consumer culture, and the cultural clashes of the 1960s prompted many writers to argue that reality had grown inaccessible, undermining the traditional social role of fiction. Writers of novels and short stories therefore were under unprecedented pressure to discover, or invent, new and viable kinds of fiction. One response was the postmodern novel of William Gaddis, John Barth, John Hawkes, Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, Paul Auster, and Don DeLillo—technically sophisticated and highly self-conscious about the construction of fiction and the fictive nature of “reality” itself. These writers dealt with themes such as imposture and paranoia; their novels drew attention to themselves as artifacts and often used realistic techniques ironically. Other responses involved a heightening of realism by means of intensifying violence, amassing documentation, or resorting to fantasy. A brief discussion of writers as different as Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates may serve to illustrate these new directions.

In his World War II novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), Mailer wrote in the Dos Passos tradition of social protest. Feeling its limitations, he developed his own brand of surreal fantasy in fables such as An American Dream (1965) and Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967). As with many of the postmodern novelists, his subject was the nature of power, personal as well as political. However, it was only when he turned to “nonfiction fiction” or “fiction as history” in The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago (both 1968) that Mailer discovered his true voice—grandiose yet personal, comic yet shrewdly intellectual. He refined this approach into a new objectivity in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “true life novel” The Executioner’s Song (1979). When he returned to fiction, his most effective work was Harlot’s Ghost (1991), the first volume of a projected long novel about the Central Intelligence Agency.

In her early work, especially A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967) and them (1969), Joyce Carol Oates worked naturalistically with violent urban materials, such as the Detroit riots. Incredibly prolific, she later experimented with Surrealism in Wonderland (1971) and Gothic fantasy in Bellefleur (1980) before returning in works such as Marya (1986) to the bleak blue-collar world of her youth in upstate New York. Among her later works was Blonde: A Novel (2000), a fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe. While Mailer and Oates refused to surrender the novel’s gift for capturing reality, both were compelled to search out new fictional modes to tap that power.

The surge of feminism in the 1970s gave impetus to many new women writers, such as Erica Jong, author of the sexy and funny Fear of Flying (1974), and Rita Mae Brown, who explored lesbian life in Rubyfruit Jungle (1973). Other significant works of fiction by women in the 1970s included Ann Beattie’s account of the post-1960s generation in Chilly Scenes of Winter (1976) and many short stories, Gail Godwin’s highly civilized The Odd Woman (1974), Mary Gordon’s portraits of Irish Catholic life in Final Payments (1978), and the many social comedies of Alison Lurie and Anne Tyler.



The influence of Raymond Carver

Perhaps the most influential fiction writer to emerge in the 1970s was Raymond Carver. He was another realist who dealt with blue-collar life, usually in the Pacific Northwest, in powerful collections of stories such as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) and Cathedral (1983). His self-destructive characters were life’s losers, and his style, influenced by Hemingway and Samuel Beckett, was spare and flat but powerfully suggestive. It was imitated, often badly, by minimalists such as Frederick Barthelme, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. More-talented writers whose novels reflected the influence of Carver in their evocation of the downbeat world of the blue-collar male included Richard Ford (Rock Springs [1987]), Russell Banks (Continental Drift [1984] and Affliction [1989]), and Tobias Wolff (The Barracks Thief [1984] and This Boy’s Life [1989]). Another strong male-oriented writer in a realist mode who emerged from the 1960s counterculture was Robert Stone. His Dog Soldiers (1974) was a grimly downbeat portrayal of the drugs-and-Vietnam generation, and A Flag for Sunrise (1981) was a bleak, Conradian political novel set in Central America. Stone focused more on the spiritual malaise of his characters than on their ordinary lives. He wrote a lean, furious Hollywood novel in Children of Light (1986) and captured some of the feverish, apocalyptic atmosphere of the Holy Land in Damascus Gate (1998). In leisurely, good-humoured, minutely detailed novels, Richard Russo dealt with blue-collar losers living in decaying Northeastern towns in The Risk Pool (1988), Nobody’s Fool (1993), and Empire Falls (2001), but he also published a satiric novel about academia, Straight Man (1997). Some women writers were especially impressive in dealing with male characters, including E. Annie Proulx in The Shipping News (1993) and Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999) and Andrea Barrett in Ship Fever (1996). Others focused on relationships between women, including Mary Gaitskill in her witty satiric novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991), written under the influences of Nabokov and Mary McCarthy. Lorrie Moore published rich, idiosyncratic stories as densely textured as novels. Deborah Eisenberg, Amy Bloom, Antonya Nelson, and Thom Jones also helped make the last years of the 20th century a fertile period for short fiction.
 


Raymond Carver





 

Raymond Carver, in full Raymond Clevie Carver (b. May 25, 1938, Clatskanie, Ore., U.S.—d. Aug. 2, 1988, Port Angeles, Wash.), American short-story writer and poet whose realistic writings about the working poor mirrored his own life.

Carver was the son of a sawmill worker. He married a year after finishing high school and supported his wife and two children by working as a janitor, gas-station attendant, and delivery man. He became seriously interested in a writing career after taking a creative-writing course at Chico State College (now California State University, Chico) in 1958. His short stories began to appear in magazines while he studied at Humboldt State College (now Humboldt State University) in Arcata, Calif. (B.A., 1963). Carver’s first success as a writer came in 1967 with the story “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?,” and he began writing full-time after losing his job as a textbook editor in 1970. The highly successful short-story collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976) established his reputation.

Carver began drinking heavily in 1967 and was repeatedly hospitalized for alcoholism in the 1970s, while continuing to turn out short stories. After conquering his drinking problem in the late 1970s, he taught for several years at the University of Texas at El Paso and at Syracuse University, and in 1983 he won a literary award whose generous annual stipend freed him to again concentrate on his writing full-time. His later short-story collections were What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), Cathedral (1984), and Where I’m Calling From (1988). While his short stories were what made his critical reputation, he was also an accomplished poet in the realist tradition of Robert Frost. Carver’s poetry collections include At Night the Salmon Move (1976), Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (1985), and Ultramarine (1986). He died of lung cancer at age 50.

In his short stories Carver chronicled the everyday lives and problems of the working poor in the Pacific Northwest. His blue-collar characters are crushed by broken marriages, financial problems, and failed careers, but they are often unable to understand or even articulate their own anguish. Carver’s stripped-down, minimalist prose style is remarkable for its honesty and power. He is credited with helping revitalize the genre of the English-language short story in the late 20th century.

However, controversy arose over the nature of Carver’s writing—and even his lasting literary reputation—in the early 21st century. It was revealed that his long-time editor, Gordon Lish, had drastically changed many of Carver’s early stories. While Lish’s significant involvement in Carver’s writing had long been suspected, the extent of his editing became public knowledge when, in 2007, Carver’s widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, announced that she was seeking to publish the original versions of the stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (which appeared in the U.K. as Beginners in 2009). Lish was shown to have changed characters’ names, cut the length of many stories (over 75 percent of the text in two cases), and altered the endings of some stories. However, most of Carver’s famously terse sentences were his own, as was the hallmark bleak, working-class milieu of the short stories.
 






Multicultural writing

The dramatic loosening of immigration restrictions in the mid-1960s set the stage for the rich multicultural writing of the last quarter of the 20th century. New Jewish voices were heard in the fiction of E.L. Doctorow, noted for his mingling of the historical with the fictional in novels such as Ragtime (1975) and The Waterworks (1994) and in the work of Cynthia Ozick, whose best story, Envy; or Yiddish in America (1969), has characters modeled on leading figures in Yiddish literature. Her story The Shawl (1980) concerns the murder of a baby in a Nazi concentration camp. David Leavitt introduced homosexual themes into his portrayal of middle-class life in Family Dancing (1984). At the turn of the 21st century, younger Jewish writers from the former Soviet Union such as Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar dealt impressively with the experience of immigrants in the United States.

Novels such as N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, James Welch’s Winter in the Blood (1974) and Fools Crow (1986), Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine (1984), The Beet Queen (1986), and The Antelope Wife (1998) were powerful and ambiguous explorations of Native American history and identity. Mexican Americans were represented by works such as Rudolfo A. Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima (1972), Richard Rodriguez’s autobiographical Hunger of Memory (1981), and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1983) and her collection Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories (1991).
 


E.L. Doctorow



 

E.L. Doctorow, in full Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (b. Jan. 6, 1931, New York, N.Y., U.S.), American novelist known for his skillful manipulation of traditional genres.

Doctorow graduated from Kenyon College (B.A., 1952) and then studied drama and directing for a year at Columbia University. He worked for a time as a script reader for Columbia Pictures in New York City. In 1959 he joined the editorial staff of the New American Library, leaving that post five years later to become editor in chief at Dial Press. He subsequently taught at several colleges and universities, including Sarah Lawrence College from 1971 to 1978. He was a visiting senior fellow at Princeton University in 1980–81 and the following year became Glucksman Professor of English and American Letters at New York University.

Doctorow was noted for the facility with which he appropriated genre conceits to illuminate the historical periods in which he set his novels. His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times (1960; film 1967), is a philosophical turn on the western genre. In his next book, Big As Life (1966), he used science fiction to explore the human response to crisis. Doctorow’s proclivity for harvesting characters from history first became apparent in The Book of Daniel (1971; film 1983), a fictionalized treatment of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage in 1953. In Ragtime (1975; film 1981), historical figures share the spotlight with characters emblematic of the shifting social dynamics of early 20th-century America.

Doctorow then turned to the milieu of the Great Depression and its aftermath in the novels Loon Lake (1980), World’s Fair (1985), and Billy Bathgate (1989; film 1991). The Waterworks (1994) concerns life in 19th-century New York. City of God (2000), consisting of what are ostensibly the journal entries of a writer, splinters into several different narratives, including a detective story and a Holocaust narrative. The March (2005) follows a fictionalized version of the Union general William Tecumseh Sherman on his infamously destructive trek through Georgia, aimed at weakening the Confederate economy, during the American Civil War. Doctorow trained his sights on historical figures of less eminence in Homer and Langley (2009), a mythologization of the lives of the Collyer brothers, a pair of reclusive eccentrics whose death in 1947 revealed a nightmarish repository of curiosities and garbage in their Harlem, New York City, brownstone.

Doctorow’s essays were collected in several volumes, including Reporting the Universe (2003) and Creationists: Selected Essays, 1993–2006 (2006), which contrasts the creative process as it manifests in literature and in science. Additionally, Doctorow wrote the play Drinks Before Dinner (1979) and published the short-story collections Lives of the Poets (1984) and Sweet Land Stories (2004).
 


Some of the best immigrant writers, while thoroughly assimilated, nonetheless had a subtle understanding of both the old and the new culture. These included the Cuban American writers Oscar Hijuelos (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love [1989]) and Cristina Garcia (Dreaming in Cuban [1992] and The Agüero Sisters [1997]); the Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid, author of Annie John (1984), Lucy (1990), and an AIDS memoir, My Brother (1997); the Dominican-born Junot Díaz, who won acclaim for Drown (1996), a collection of stories, and whose novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) won a Pulitzer Prize; and the Bosnian immigrant Aleksandar Hemon, who wrote The Question of Bruno (2000) and Nowhere Man (2002). Chinese Americans found an extraordinary voice in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976) and China Men (1980), which blended old Chinese lore with fascinating family history. Her first novel, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989), was set in the bohemian world of the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s. Other important Asian American writers included Gish Jen, whose Typical American (1991) dealt with immigrant striving and frustration; the Korean American Chang-rae Lee, who focused on family life, political awakening, and generational differences in Native Speaker (1995) and A Gesture Life (1999); and Ha Jin, whose Waiting (1999, National Book Award), set in rural China during and after the Cultural Revolution, was a powerful tale of timidity, repression, and botched love, contrasting the mores of the old China and the new. Bharati Mukherjee beautifully explored contrasting lives in India and North America in The Middleman and Other Stories (1988), Jasmine (1989), and Desirable Daughters (2002). While many multicultural works were merely representative of their cultural milieu, books such as these made remarkable contributions to a changing American literature.

During the 1990s some of the best energies of fiction writers went into autobiography, in works such as Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club (1995), about growing up in a loving but dysfunctional family on the Texas Gulf Coast; Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (1996), a vivid portrayal of a Dickensian childhood amid the grinding conditions of Irish slum life; Anne Roiphe’s bittersweet recollections of her rich but cold-hearted parents and her brother’s death from AIDS in 1185 Park Avenue (1999); and Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), a painful but comic tour de force, half tongue-in-cheek, about a young man raising his brother after the death of their parents.

The memoir vogue did not prevent writers from publishing huge, ambitious novels, including David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996), an encyclopaedic mixture of arcane lore, social fiction, and postmodern irony; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001, National Book Award), an affecting, scathingly satiric family portrait; and Don DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), a brooding, resonant, oblique account of the Cold War era as seen through the eyes of both fictional characters and historical figures. All three novels testify to a belated convergence of Social Realism and Pynchonesque invention. Pynchon himself returned to form with a sprawling, picaresque historical novel, Mason & Dixon (1997), about two famous 18th-century surveyors who explored and mapped the American colonies.
 


Poetry

The post-World War II years produced an abundance of strong poetry but no individual poet as dominant and accomplished as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, or William Carlos Williams, whose long careers were coming to an end. The major poetry from 1945 to 1960 was Modernist in its ironic texture yet formal in its insistence on regular rhyme and metre. Beginning in the late 1950s, however, there were a variety of poets and schools who rebelled against these constraints and experimented with more-open forms and more-colloquial styles.



Formal poets

The leading figure of the late 1940s was Robert Lowell, who, influenced by Eliot and such Metaphysical poets as John Donne and
Gerard Manley Hopkins, explored his spiritual torments and family history in Lord Weary’s Castle (1946). Other impressive formal poets included Theodore Roethke, who, influenced by William Butler Yeats, revealed a genius for ironic lyricism and a profound empathy for the processes of nature in The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948); the masterfully elegant Richard Wilbur (Things of This World [1956]); two war poets, Karl Shapiro (V-Letter and Other Poems [1944]) and Randall Jarrell (Losses [1948]); and a group of young poets influenced by W.H. Auden, including James Merrill, W.S. Merwin, James Wright, Adrienne Rich, and John Hollander. Although they displayed brilliant technical skill, they lacked Auden’s strong personal voice.



Experimentation and Beat poetry

By the mid-1950s, however, a strong reaction had developed. Poets began to turn away from Eliot and Metaphysical poetry to more-romantic or more-prosaic models such as Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, and D.H. Lawrence. A group of poets associated with Black Mountain College in western North Carolina, including Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, and Denise Levertov, treated the poem as an unfolding process rather than a containing form. Olson’s Maximus Poems (1953–68) showed a clear affinity with the jagged line and uneven flow of Pound’s Cantos and Williams’s Paterson. Allen Ginsberg’s incantatory, prophetic Howl (1956) and his moving elegy for his mother, Kaddish (1961), gave powerful impetus to the Beat movement. Written with extraordinary intensity, these works were inspired by writers as diverse as Whitman, the biblical prophets, and English poets William Blake and Christopher Smart, as well as by the dream-logic of the French Surrealists and the spontaneous jazz aesthetic of Ginsberg’s friend the novelist Jack Kerouac. Other Beat poets included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder, a student of Eastern religion who, in Turtle Island (1974), continued the American tradition of nature poetry.

The openness of Beat poetry and the prosaic directness of Williams encouraged Lowell to develop a new autobiographical style in the laconic poetry and prose of Life Studies (1959) and For the Union Dead (1964). Lowell’s new work influenced nearly all American poets but especially a group of “confessional” writers, including Anne Sexton in To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Sylvia Plath in the posthumously published Ariel (1965). In her poetry Plath joined an icy sarcasm to white-hot emotional intensity. Another poet influenced by Lowell was John Berryman, whose Dream Songs (1964, 1968) combined autobiographical fragments with minstrel-show motifs to create a zany style of self-projection and comic-tragic lament. Deeply troubled figures, Sexton, Plath, and Berryman all took their own lives. Lowell’s influence can still be discerned in the elegant quatrains and casually brutal details of Frederick Seidel’s Life on Earth (2001), as in the crisp elegiac poems of his award-winning Sunrise (1980).



“Deep image” poets

Through his personal charisma and his magazine The Fifties (later The Sixties and The Seventies), Robert Bly encouraged a number of poets to shift their work toward the individual voice and open form; they included Galway Kinnell, James Wright, David Ignatow, and, less directly, Louis Simpson, James Dickey, and Donald Hall. Sometimes called the “deep image” poets, Bly and his friends sought spiritual intensity and transcendence of the self rather than confessional immediacy. Their work was influenced by the poetry of Spanish and Latin American writers such as Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, César Vallejo, and Pablo Neruda, especially their surreal association of images, as well as by the “greenhouse poems” (1946–48) and the later meditative poetry of Roethke, with their deep feeling for nature as a vehicle of spiritual transformation. Yet, like their Hispanic models, they were also political poets, instrumental in organizing protest and writing poems against the Vietnam War. Kinnell was a Lawrentian poet who, in poems such as The Porcupine and The Bear, gave the brutality of nature the power of myth. His vatic sequence, The Book of Nightmares (1971), and the quieter poems in Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980) are among the most rhetorically effective works in contemporary poetry.



New directions

James Wright’s style changed dramatically in the early 1960s. He abandoned his stiffly formal verse for the stripped-down, meditative lyricism of The Branch Will Not Break (1963) and Shall We Gather at the River (1968), which were more dependent on the emotional tenor of image than on metre, poetic diction, or rhyme. In books such as Figures of the Human (1964) and Rescue the Dead (1968), David Ignatow wrote brief but razor-sharp poems that made their effect through swiftness, deceptive simplicity, paradox, and personal immediacy. Another poet whose work ran the gamut from prosaic simplicity to Emersonian transcendence was A.R. Ammons. His short poems in Briefings (1971) were close to autobiographical jottings, small glimpses, and observations, but, like his longer poems, they turned the natural world into a source of vision. Like Ignatow, he made it a virtue to seem unliterary and found illumination in the pedestrian and the ordinary.

Both daily life and an exposure to French Surrealism helped inspire a group of New York poets, among them Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and John Ashbery. Whether O’Hara was jotting down a sequence of ordinary moments or paying tribute to film stars, his poems had a breathless immediacy that was distinctive and unique. Koch’s comic voice swung effortlessly from the trivial to the fantastic. Strongly influenced by Wallace Stevens, Ashbery’s ruminative poems can seem random, discursive, and enigmatic. Avoiding poetic colour, they do their work by suggestion and association, exploring the interface between experience and perception.

Other impressive poets of the postwar years included Elizabeth Bishop, whose precise, loving attention to objects was reminiscent of her early mentor, Marianne Moore. Though she avoided the confessional mode of her friend Lowell, her sense of place, her heartbreaking decorum, and her keen powers of observation gave her work a strong personal cast. In The Changing Light at Sandover (1982), James Merrill, previously a polished lyric poet, made his mandarin style the vehicle of a lighthearted personal epic, in which he, with the help of a Ouija board, called up the shades of all his dead friends, including the poet Auden. In a prolific career highlighted by such poems as Reflections on Espionage (1976), Blue Wine (1979), and Powers of Thirteen (1983), John Hollander, like Merrill, displayed enormous technical virtuosity. Richard Howard imagined witty monologues and dialogues for famous people of the past in poems collected in Untitled Subjects (1969) and Two-Part Inventions (1974).



Autobiographical approaches

With the autobiographical knots and parables of Reasons for Moving (1968) and Darker (1970), Mark Strand’s paradoxical language achieved a resonant simplicity. He enhanced his reputation with Dark Harbor (1993) and Blizzard of One (1998). Other strongly autobiographical poets working with subtle technique and intelligence in a variety of forms included Philip Levine, Charles Simic, Robert Pinsky, Gerald Stern, Louise Glück, and Sharon Olds. Levine’s background in working-class Detroit gave his work a unique cast, while Glück and Olds brought a terrific emotional intensity to their poems. Pinsky’s poems were collected in The Figured Wheel (1996). He became a tireless and effective advocate for poetry during his tenure as poet laureate from 1997 to 2000. With the sinuous sentences and long flowing lines of Tar (1983) and Flesh and Blood (1987), C.K. Williams perfected a narrative technique founded on distinctive voice, sharply etched emotion, and cleanly observed detail. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Repair (2000). Adrienne Rich’s work gained a burning immediacy from her lesbian feminism. The Will to Change (1971) and Diving into the Wreck (1973) were turning points for women’s poetry in the wake of the 1960s.

That decade also enabled some older poets to become more loosely autobiographical and freshly imaginative, among them Stanley Kunitz, Robert Penn Warren, and W.S. Merwin. The 1960s invigorated gifted black poets such as Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Michael S. Harper. It formed the background for the work of the young poets of the 1980s, such as Edward Hirsch, Alan Shapiro, Jorie Graham, Cathy Song, and Rita Dove, whose sequence about her grandparents, Thomas and Beulah, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. Graham’s increasingly abstract and elusive work culminated in The Dream of the Unified Field (1995), selected from five previous volumes. The AIDS crisis inspired My Alexandria (1993) by Mark Doty, The Man with Night Sweats (1992) by Thom Gunn, and a superb memoir, Borrowed Time (1988), and a cycle of poems, Love Alone (1988), by the poet Paul Monette. With razor-sharp images and finely honed descriptive touches, Louisiana-born Yusef Komunyakaa emerged as an impressive African American voice in the 1990s. He wrote about his time as a soldier and war correspondent in Vietnam in Dien Cai Dau (1988) and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his volume of new and selected poems Neon Vernacular (1993). His poems were collected in Pleasure Dome (2001). Billy Collins found a huge audience for his engagingly witty and conversational poetry, especially that collected in Sailing Alone Around the Room (2001), published the year he became poet laureate.





Drama

Miller, Williams, and Albee

Two post-World War II playwrights established reputations comparable to
Eugene O’Neill’s. Arthur Miller wrote eloquent essays defending his modern, democratic concept of tragedy; despite its abstract, allegorical quality and portentous language, Death of a Salesman (1949) came close to vindicating his views. Miller’s intense family dramas were rooted in the problem dramas of Henrik Ibsen and the works of the socially conscious ethnic dramatists of the 1930s, especially Clifford Odets, but Miller gave them a metaphysical turn. From All My Sons (1947) to The Price (1968), his work was at its strongest when he dealt with father-son relationships, anchored in the harsh realities of the Great Depression. Yet Miller could also be an effective protest writer, as in The Crucible (1953), which used the Salem witch trials to attack the witch-hunting of the McCarthy era.

Though his work was uneven, Tennessee Williams at his best was a more powerful and effective playwright than Miller. Creating stellar roles for actors, especially women, Williams brought a passionate lyricism and a tragic Southern vision to such plays as The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and The Night of the Iguana (1961). He empathized with his characters’ dreams and illusions and with the frustrations and defeats of their lives, and he wrote about his own dreams and disappointments in his beautifully etched short fiction, from which his plays were often adapted.

Miller and Williams dominated the post-World War II theatre until the 1960s, and few other playwrights emerged to challenge them.

Then, in 1962, Edward Albee’s reputation, based on short plays such as The Zoo Story (1959) and The American Dream (1960), was secured by the stunning power of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A master of absurdist theatre who assimilated the influence of European playwrights such as
Samuel Beckett and
Eugène Ionesco, Albee established himself as a major figure in American drama. His reputation with critics and audiences, however, began to decline with enigmatic plays such as Tiny Alice (1964) and A Delicate Balance (1966), but, like O’Neill, he eventually returned to favour with a complex autobiographical drama, Three Tall Women (1994).
 


Arthur Miller



 

American playwright
in full Arthur Asher Miller

born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.
died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut

Main
American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951).
The Crucible (1953) was based on the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, a period Miller considered relevant to the 1950s, when investigation of subversive activities was widespread. In 1956, when Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he refused to name people he had seen 10 years earlier at an alleged communist writers’ meeting. He was convicted of contempt but appealed and won.
A Memory of Two Mondays and another short play, A View from the Bridge (a story of an Italian-American longshoreman whose passion for his niece destroys him), were staged on the same bill in 1955. After the Fall (1964) is concerned with failure in human relationships and its consequences. The Price (1968) continued Miller’s exploration of the theme of guilt and responsibility to oneself and to others by examining the strained relationship between two brothers. He directed the London production of the play in 1969. The Archbishop’s Ceiling, produced in Washington, D.C., in 1977, dealt with the Soviet treatment of dissident writers. The American Clock, a series of dramatic vignettes based on Studs Terkel’s Hard Times (about the Great Depression), was produced at the 1980 American Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Later plays include The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991), Mr. Peters’ Connections (1998), and Resurrection Blues (2002).
Miller also wrote a screenplay, The Misfits (1961), for his second wife, the actress Marilyn Monroe (1926–62); they were married from 1956 to 1961. The filming of The Misfits served as the basis for the play Finishing the Picture (2004). I Don’t Need You Any More, a collection of his short stories, appeared in 1967 and a collection of theatre essays in 1977. His autobiography, Timebends, was published in 1987.

 

 


Tennessee Williams



 

Tennessee Williams, original name Thomas Lanier Williams (b. March 26, 1911, Columbus, Miss., U.S.—d. Feb. 25, 1983, New York City), American dramatist whose plays reveal a world of human frustration in which sex and violence underlie an atmosphere of romantic gentility.

Williams became interested in playwriting while at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and Washington University (St. Louis) and worked at it even during the Depression while employed in a St. Louis shoe factory. Little theatre groups produced some of his work, encouraging him to study dramatic writing at the University of Iowa, where he earned a B.A. in 1938.

His first recognition came when American Blues (1939), a group of one-act plays, won a Group Theatre award. Williams, however, continued to work at jobs ranging from theatre usher to Hollywood scriptwriter until success came with The Glass Menagerie (1944). In it, Williams portrayed a declassed Southern family living in a tenement. The play is about the failure of a domineering mother, Amanda, living upon her delusions of a romantic past, and her cynical son, Tom, to secure a suitor for Tom’s crippled and painfully shy sister, Laura, who lives in a fantasy world with a collection of glass animals.

Williams’ next major play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), won a Pulitzer Prize. It is a study of the mental and moral ruin of Blanche Du Bois, another former Southern belle, whose genteel pretensions are no match for the harsh realities symbolized by her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

In 1953, Camino Real, a complex work set in a mythical, microcosmic town whose inhabitants include Lord Byron and Don Quixote, was a commercial failure, but his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), which exposes the emotional lies governing relationships in the family of a wealthy Southern planter, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was successfully filmed, as was The Night of the Iguana (1961), the story of a defrocked minister turned sleazy tour guide, who finds God in a cheap Mexican hotel. Suddenly Last Summer (1958) deals with lobotomy, pederasty, and cannibalism, and in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), the gigolo hero is castrated for having infected a Southern politician’s daughter with venereal disease.

Williams was in ill health frequently during the 1960s, compounded by years of addiction to sleeping pills and liquor, problems that he struggled to overcome after a severe mental and physical breakdown in 1969. His later plays were unsuccessful, closing soon to poor reviews. They include Vieux Carré (1977), about down-and-outs in New Orleans; A Lovely Sunday for Crève Coeur (1978–79), about a fading belle in St. Louis during the Great Depression; and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), centring on Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on the people they knew.

Williams also wrote two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) and Moise and the World of Reason (1975), essays, poetry, film scripts, short stories, and an autobiography, Memoirs (1975). His works won four Drama Critics’ awards and were widely translated and performed around the world.
 

 

 


Edward Albee



 

Edward Albee, in full Edward Franklin Albee (b. March 12, 1928, Washington, D.C., U.S.), American dramatist and theatrical producer best known for his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), which displays slashing insight and witty dialogue in its gruesome portrayal of married life.

Albee was the adopted child of a father who had for a time been the assistant general manager of a chain of vaudeville theatres then partially owned by the Albee family. At the time of Albee’s adoption, though, both his parents were involved with owning and showing saddle horses. He had a difficult relationship with his parents, particularly with his mother, whom he saw as distant and unloving. Albee grew up in New York City and nearby Westchester county. He was educated at Choate School (graduated 1946) and at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut (1946–47). He wrote poetry and an unpublished novel but turned to plays in the late 1950s.

Among Albee’s early one-act plays, The Zoo Story (1959), The Sandbox (1959), and The American Dream (1961) were the most successful and established him as an astute critic of American values. But it is his first full-length play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (film 1966), that remains his most important work. In this play a middle-aged professor, his wife, and a younger couple engage one night in an unrestrained drinking bout that is filled with malicious games, insults, humiliations, betrayals, savage witticisms, and painful, self-revealing confrontations. Virginia Woolf won immediate acclaim and established Albee as a major American playwright.

It was followed by a number of full-length works—including A Delicate Balance (1966; winner of a Pulitzer Prize), which was based in part on his mother’s witty alcoholic sister, and Three Tall Women (1994; Pulitzer Prize). The latter play deals with Albee’s perceptions and feelings about his mother and is a remarkable portrait achieved by presenting the interaction of three women, who resemble each other, at different stages of life. Among his other plays are Tiny Alice (1965), which begins as a philosophical discussion between a lawyer and a cardinal; Seascape (1975; also winner of a Pulitzer Prize), a poetic exploration of evolution; and The Play About the Baby (1998), on the mysteries of birth and parenthood.

Albee continued to dissect American morality in plays such as The Goat; or, Who Is Sylvia? (2002), which depicts the disintegration of a marriage in the wake of the revelation that the husband has engaged in bestiality. In Occupant (2001), Albee imagines the sculptor Louise Nevelson being interviewed after her death. Albee also expanded The Zoo Story into a two-act play, called Peter and Jerry (2004). The absurdist Me, Myself, & I (2007) trenchantly analyzes the relationship between a mother and her twin sons.

In addition to writing, Albee produced a number of plays and lectured at schools throughout the country. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996. A compilation of his essays and personal anecdotes, Stretching My Mind, was published in 2005. That year Albee also received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.
 





The Off-Broadway ascendancy

The centre of American drama shifted from Broadway to Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway with works such as Jack Gelber’s The Connection (1959). American playwrights, collaborating with the Living Theatre, the Open Theatre, and other adventurous new companies, were increasingly free to write radical and innovative plays. David Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971) and Sticks and Bones (1972) satirized America’s militaristic nationalism and cultural shallowness. David Mamet won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for American Buffalo (1976). In plays such as Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), he showed brilliantly how men reveal their hopes and frustrations obliquely, through their language, and in Oleanna (1992) he fired a major salvo in the gender wars over sexual harassment.

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Ed Bullins inspired an angry black nationalist theatre. Baraka’s Dutchman and The Slave (1964) effectively dramatized racial confrontation, while Bullins’s In the Wine Time (1968) made use of “street” lyricism. Maria Irene Fornes’s Fefu and Her Friends (1977) proved remarkable in its exploration of women’s relationships. A clear indication of Off-Broadway’s ascendancy in American drama came in 1979 when Sam Shepard, a prolific and experimental playwright, won the Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. Shepard’s earlier work, such as The Tooth of Crime (1972), was rooted both in the rock scene and counterculture of the 1960s and in the mythic world of the American West. He reached his peak with a series of offbeat dramas dealing with fierce family conflict, including Curse of the Starving Class (1976), True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983), and A Lie of the Mind (1986).

Other important new voices in American drama were the prolific Lanford Wilson, Pulitzer winner for Talley’s Folly (1979); John Guare, who created serious farce in The House of Blue Leaves (1971) and fresh social drama in Six Degrees of Separation (1990); and Ntozake Shange, whose “choreopoem” For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf moved to Broadway in 1976. Other well-received women playwrights included Marsha Norman, Beth Henley, Tina Howe, and Wendy Wasserstein. In a series of plays that included Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984), Fences (1987), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986), August Wilson emerged as the most powerful black playwright of the 1980s. Devoting each play to a different decade of life in the 20th century, he won a second Pulitzer Prize, for The Piano Lesson (1990), and completed the 10-play cycle in 2005, shortly before his death.

The anguish of the AIDS epidemic proved a dark inspiration to many gay playwrights, especially Tony Kushner, who had gained attention with A Bright Room Called Day (1991), set in Germany in 1932–33; he won Broadway fame with his epically ambitious two-part drama Angels in America (1991–92), which combined comedy with pain, symbolism with personal history, and invented characters with historical ones. A committed political writer, Kushner often focused on public themes. His later plays included Slavs! (1996) and the timely Homebody/Kabul (2001), a brilliant monologue followed by a drama set in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. After writing several Off-Broadway plays about Chinese Americans, David Henry Hwang achieved critical and commercial success on Broadway with his gender-bending drama M. Butterfly (1988). Richard Nelson found an enthusiastic following in London for literate plays such as Some Americans Abroad (1989) and Two Shakespearean Actors (1990), while Richard Greenberg depicted Jewish American life and both gay and straight relationships in Eastern Standard (1989), The American Plan (1990), and Take Me Out (2002), the last about a gay baseball player who reveals his homosexuality to his teammates. Donald Margulies dealt more directly with Jewish family life in The Loman Family Picnic (1989). He also explored the ambitions and relationships of artists in such plays as Sight Unseen (1992) and Collected Stories (1998).

The 1990s also saw the emergence of several talented women playwrights. Paula Vogel repeatedly focused on hot-button moral issues with humour and compassion, dealing with prostitution in The Oldest Profession (1981), AIDS in The Baltimore Waltz (1992), pornography in Hot ’n’ Throbbing (1994), and the sexual abuse of minors in How I Learned to Drive (1997). A young African American playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks, gained increasing recognition with her surreal pageant The America Play (1993), a ghetto adaptation of The Scarlet Letter called In the Blood (1999), and Topdog/Underdog (2001), a partly symbolic tale of conflict between two brothers (named Lincoln and Booth) that reminded critics of Sam Shepard’s fratricidal True West. Other well-received works included Heather McDonald’s An Almost Holy Picture (1995), a one-man play about the spiritual life of a preacher; poet Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare (1995), set in London during the Great Plague of 1665; and Margaret Edson’s Wit (1995), about the slow, poignant cancer death of a literary scholar whose life has been shaped by the eloquence and wit of Metaphysical poetry. Feminism helped free these writers to develop a rich range of subjects rarely seen on the American stage.




Literary and social criticism

Until his death in 1972, Edmund Wilson solidified his reputation as one of America’s most versatile and distinguished men of letters. The novelist John Updike inherited Wilson’s chair at The New Yorker and turned out an extraordinary flow of critical reviews collected in volumes such as Hugging the Shore (1983) and Odd Jobs (1991). Gore Vidal brought together his briskly readable essays of four decades—critical, personal, and political—in United States (1993). Susan Sontag’s essays on difficult European writers, avant-garde film, politics, photography, and the language of illness embodied the probing intellectual spirit of the 1960s. In A Second Flowering (1973) and The Dream of the Golden Mountains (1980), Malcolm Cowley looked back at the writers between the world wars who had always engaged him. Alfred Kazin wrote literary history (An American Procession [1984], God and the American Writer [1997]) and autobiography (Starting Out in the Thirties [1965], New York Jew [1978]), while Irving Howe produced studies at the crossroads of literature and politics, such as Politics and the Novel (1957), as well as a major history of Jewish immigrants in New York, World of Our Fathers (1976).

The iconoclastic literary criticism of Leslie Fiedler, as, for example, Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), was marked by its provocative application of Freudian ideas to American literature. In his later work he turned to popular culture as a source of revealing social and psychological patterns. A more-subtle Freudian, Lionel Trilling, in The Liberal Imagination (1950) and other works, rejected Vernon L. Parrington’s populist concept of literature as social reportage and insisted on the ability of literature to explore problematic human complexity. His criticism reflected the inward turn from politics toward “moral realism” that coincided with the Cold War. But the cultural and political conflicts of the 1960s revived the social approach among younger students of American literature, such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who emerged in the 1980s as a major critic, theorist, and editor of black writers in studies such as Figures in Black (1987) and The Signifying Monkey (1988). In the 1990s Gates evolved into a wide-ranging essayist, along with Cornel West, Stanley Crouch, bell hooks, Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, Gerald Early, Michele Wallace, and other black social critics.
 


John Updike



 

John Updike, in full John Hoyer Updike (b. March 18, 1932, Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.—d. January 27, 2009, Danvers, Mass.), American writer of novels, short stories, and poetry, known for his careful craftsmanship and realistic but subtle depiction of “American, Protestant, small-town, middle-class” life.

Updike grew up in Shillington, Pennsylvania, and many of his early stories draw on his youthful experiences there. He graduated from Harvard University in 1954. In 1955 he began an association with The New Yorker magazine, to which he contributed editorials, poetry, stories, and criticism throughout his prolific career. His poetry—intellectual, witty pieces on the absurdities of modern life—was gathered in his first book, The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures (1958), which was followed by his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1958). About this time, Updike devoted himself to writing fiction full-time, and several works followed. Rabbit, Run (1960), which is considered to be one of his best novels, concerns a former star athlete who is unable to recapture success when bound by marriage and small-town life and flees responsibility. Three subsequent novels, Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990)—the latter two winning Pulitzer Prizes—follow the same character during later periods of his life. Rabbit Remembered (2001) returns to characters from those books in the wake of Rabbit’s death. The Centaur (1963) and Of the Farm (1965) are notable among Updike’s novels set in Pennsylvania.

Much of Updike’s later fiction is set in New England (in Ipswich, Massachusetts), where he lived from the 1960s. Updike continued to explore the issues that confront middle-class America, such as fidelity, religion, and responsibility. The novels Couples (1968) and Marry Me (1976) expose the evolving sexual politics of the time in East Coast suburbia. Updike set Memories of the Ford Administration: A Novel (1992) in the 1970s, infusing the tale of a professor’s research on President James Buchanan with observations on sexuality. In the Beauty of the Lilies (1996) draws parallels between religion and popular obsession with cinema, while Gertrude and Claudius (2000) offers conjectures on the early relationship between Hamlet’s mother and her brother-in-law. In response to the cultural shifts that occurred in the United States after the September 11 attacks, Updike released Terrorist in 2006.

Updike often expounded upon characters from earlier novels, eliding decades of their lives only to place them in the middle of new adventures. The Witches of Eastwick (1984; filmed 1987), about a coven of witches, was followed by The Widows of Eastwick (2008), which trails the women into old age. Bech: A Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1982), and Bech at Bay (1998) humorously trace the tribulations of a Jewish writer.

Updike’s several collections of short stories include The Same Door (1959), Pigeon Feathers (1962), Museums and Women (1972), Problems (1979), Trust Me (1987), and My Father’s Tears, and Other Stories (2009), which was published posthumously. He also wrote nonfiction and criticism, much of it appearing in The New Yorker. It has been collected in Assorted Prose (1965), Picked-Up Pieces (1975), Hugging the Shore (1983), and Odd Jobs (1991). Still Looking: Essays on American Art (2005) examines both art and its cultural presentation, and Due Considerations (2007) collects later commentary spanning art, sexuality, and literature. Updike also continued to write poetry, usually light verse. Endpoint, and Other Poems, published posthumously in 2009, collects poetry Updike had written between 2002 and a few weeks before he died; it takes his own death as its primary subject.

 

 


Gore Vidal





Gore Vidal, original name Eugene Luther Vidal (b. Oct. 3, 1925, West Point, N.Y., U.S.), prolific American novelist, playwright, and essayist, noted for his irreverent and intellectually adroit novels.

Vidal graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army in World War II. Thereafter he resided in many parts of the world—the east and west coasts of the United States, Europe, North Africa, and Central America. His first novel, Williwaw (1946), which was based on his wartime experiences, was praised by the critics, and his third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), shocked the public with its direct and unadorned examination of a homosexual main character. Vidal’s next five novels, including Messiah (1954), were received coolly by critics and were commercial failures. Abandoning novels, he turned to writing plays for the stage, television, and motion pictures and was successful in all three media. His best-known dramatic works from the next decade were Visit to a Small Planet (produced for television, 1955; on Broadway, 1957; for film, 1960) and The Best Man (play, 1960; film, 1964).

Vidal returned to writing novels with Julian (1964), a sympathetic fictional portrait of Julian the Apostate, the 4th-century pagan Roman emperor who opposed Christianity. Washington, D.C. (1967), an ironic examination of political morality in the U.S. capital, was the first of a series of several popular novels known as the Narratives of Empire, which vividly re-created prominent figures and events in American history—Burr (1974), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and The Golden Age (2000). Lincoln, a compelling portrait of President Abraham Lincoln’s complex personality as viewed through the eyes of some of his closest associates during the American Civil War, is particularly notable. Another success was the comedy Myra Breckinridge (1968; film 1970), in which Vidal lampooned both transsexuality and contemporary American culture. In Rocking the Boat (1962), Reflections upon a Sinking Ship (1969), The Second American Revolution (1982), United States: Essays, 1952–1992 (1993; National Book Award), Imperial America: Reflections of the United States of Amnesia (2004), and other essay collections, he incisively analyzed contemporary American politics and government. He also wrote two autobiographies: Palimpsest: A Memoir (1995) and Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006 (2006). Vidal was noted for his outspoken political opinions and for the witty and satirical observations he was wont to make as a guest on talk shows.
 







Literary biography and the “new journalism”

The waning of the New Criticism, with its strict emphasis on the text, led not only to a surge of historical criticism and cultural theory but also to a flowering of literary biography. Major works included Leon Edel’s five-volume study of Henry James (1953–72), Mark Schorer’s Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (1961), Richard Ellmann’s studies of James Joyce (1959) and Oscar Wilde (1988), R.W.B. Lewis’s revealing biography of Edith Wharton (1975), Joseph Frank’s five-volume biography of Dostoyevsky (1976–2002), Paul Zweig’s brilliant study of Walt Whitman (1984), and Carol Brightman’s exhaustive life of Mary McCarthy (1992).

One positive result of the accelerating complexity of post-World War II life was a body of distinguished journalism and social commentary. John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) was a deliberately controlled, unemotional account of atomic holocaust. In Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963), the novelist James Baldwin published a body of the most eloquent essays written in the United States. Ralph Ellison’s essays on race and culture in Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986) were immensely influential. Norman Mailer’s “new journalism” proved especially effective in capturing the drama of political conventions and large protest demonstrations. The novelist Joan Didion published two collections of incisive social and literary commentary, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979). The title essay of the first collection was an honest investigation of the forces that gave colour and significance to the counterculture of the 1960s, a subject also explored with stylistic flourish by journalists as different as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. The surreal atmosphere of the Vietnam War, infused with rock music and drugs, gave impetus to subjective journalism such as Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977). The mood of the period also encouraged strong works of autobiography, such as Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time (1967) and Lillian Hellman’s personal and political memoirs, including An Unfinished Woman (1969) and Scoundrel Time (1976). Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) defied all classification. Pirsig equated the emotional collapse of his central character with the disintegration of American workmanship and cultural values.



Theory

The major New Critics and New York critics were followed by major but difficult academic critics, who preferred theory to close reading. European structuralism found little echo in the United States, but poststructuralist theorists such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida found a welcome in the less-political atmosphere, marked by skepticism and defeat, that followed the 1960s. Four Yale professors joined Derrida to publish a group of essays, Deconstruction and Criticism (1979). Two of the contributors, Paul de Man and J. Hillis Miller, became leading exponents of deconstruction in the United States. The other two, Harold Bloom and Geoffrey H. Hartman, were more interested in the problematic relation of poets to their predecessors and to their own language. Bloom was especially concerned with the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on modern American poets. After developing a Freudian theory of literary influence in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and A Map of Misreading (1975), Bloom reached a wide audience with The Western Canon (1994) and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), both of which explored and defended the Western literary tradition.

Philosophers Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell and critic Richard Poirier found a native parallel to European theory in the philosophy of Emerson and the writings of pragmatists such as William James and John Dewey. Emulating Dewey and Irving Howe, Rorty emerged as a social critic in Achieving Our Country (1998) and Philosophy and Social Hope (1999). Other academic critics also took a more-political turn. Stephen Greenblatt’s work on Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers and Edward Said’s essays in The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983) were influential in reviving historical approaches to literature that had long been neglected. Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993) directed attention to the effects of colonialism on the arts and society. His essays were collected in Reflections on Exile (2000). Other critics deflected this historical approach into the field of cultural studies, which erased the lines between “high” (elite) and “low” (popular) culture and often subsumed discussion of the arts to questions of ideology. Meanwhile, a wide range of feminist critics, beginning with Kate Millett, Ellen Moers, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and Elaine Showalter, gave direction to new gender-based approaches to past and present writers. Critics who came to be known as queer theorists, such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, produced innovative work on texts dealing with homosexuality, both overt and implicit.

All these methods yielded new dimensions of critical understanding, but in less-adept hands they became so riddled with jargon or so intensely political and ideological that they lost touch with the general reader, with common sense itself, and with any tradition of accessible criticism. This drew the ire of both conservatives, such as Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind (1987), and writers on the left, such as Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals (1987) and Dogmatic Wisdom (1994). Reactions against theory-based criticism set in during the 1990s not only with attacks on “political correctness” but also with a return to more informal and essayistic forms of criticism that emphasized the role of the public intellectual and the need to reach a wider general audience. There was a revival of interest in literary journalism. Both older critics, such as Frank Lentricchia in The Edge of Night (1994) and Said in Out of Place (1999), and younger critics, including Alice Kaplan in French Lessons (1993), turned toward autobiography as a way of situating their own intellectual outlook and infusing personal expression into their work.

James R. Giles
Morris Dickstein

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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