Gurganus was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He first trained as a painter, studying at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He served three years with the United States Navy during the Vietnam War and began writing during his time on the USS Yorktown. He graduated from Sarah Lawrence College where he studied with Grace Paley. He studied with John Cheever and Stanley Elkin at the University of Iowa in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Cheever sold Gurganus's short story "Minor Heroism" to The New Yorker without telling Gurganus beforehand.
In addition to later teaching at both Sarah Lawrence and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has also taught at Stanford and Duke Universities.
His best known work is his 1989 debut novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, which was on the New York Times Best Seller list for eight months. It won the Sue Kaufman Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and sold over four million copies. It was made into a CBS television play, with Cicely Tyson winning one of its four Emmy Awards as best supporting actress in the role of the freed slave Castalia. The novel was also adapted for a one-woman Broadway play, starring Ellen Burstyn, in 2003.
Gurganus's other works include White People, a collection of short stories and novellas; Plays Well With Others, a novel; and The Practical Heart, a collection of four novellas, which won a 2001 Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Men's Fiction category. His shorter fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, in addition to being included in the O. Henry Prize Collection and the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.
After living in New York City for a number of years, Gurganus returned to North Carolina, where he co-founded the political group Writers Against Jesse Helms and, as a result, appeared as himself in Tim Kirkman's 1998 documentary Dear Jesse. Gurganus has also taken a position against the Iraq War, most notably by citing his Vietnam War experience in an essay published in The New York Times Magazine, "The War at Home", published April 6, 2003, a few weeks after the invasion. Gurganus was also the inaugural guest editor of New Stories From the South, an annual collection of notable fiction by Southern writers published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, in 2006.
He was the recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim fellowship.
In an editorial about the Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape, Gurganus stated, "When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why." The players were acquitted of all charges, and later settled with the university for an undisclosed sum.
Allan Gurganus, 1989, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123812)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
The Practical Heart: Four Novellas by Allan Gurganus
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage (August 27, 2002)
Amazon: The Practical Heart: Four Novellas
In his fictional Falls, North Carolina–a watchful zone of stifling mores–Allan Gurganus’s fond and comical characters risk everything to protect their improbable hopes from prejudice, poverty, betrayal. Seeking warmth and true connection, they shield themselves and loved ones while creating a rarely-glimpsed world of valor, minor grandeur, side-street heroics.
Muriel Fraser, a poor Scottish-born spinster, is the subject of a John Singer Sargent portrait in the imagination of her devoted grand-nephew. Tad Worth, a young man dying of AIDS, finds ways to restore vitality to old friends and 18th-century houses. Overnight, one pillar of the community, accused of child molesting, becomes the village pariah. And Clyde Delman, ugliest if kindest man in Falls, finds the love of his eight-year-old son jeopardized when troubling family secrets arise. In each of these splendid complex tales, Allan Gurganus wrings truths–sometimes bruising, ofttimes warming–from human hearts as immense as they are local.
Plays Well with Others by Allan Gurganus
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Vintage; First edition. edition (February 2, 1999)
Amazon: Plays Well with Others
With great narrative inventiveness and emotional amplitude, Allan Gurganus gives us artistic Manhattan in the wild 1980s, where young artists--refugees from the middle class--hurl themselves into playful work and serious fun. Our guide is Hartley Mims Jr., a Southerner whose native knack for happiness might thwart his literary ambitions. Through his eyes we encounter the composer Robert Christian Gustafson, an Iowa preacher's son whose good looks constitute both a mythic draw and a major limitation, and Angelina "Alabama" Byrnes, a failed deb, five feet tall but bristling with outsized talent. These friends shelter each other, promote each other's work, and compete erotically. When tragedy strikes, this circle grows up fast, somehow finding, at the worst of times, the truest sort of family.
Funny and heartbreaking, as eventful as Dickens and as atmospheric as one of Fitzgerald's parties, Plays Well with Others combines a fable's high-noon energy with an elegy's evening grace. Allan Gurganus's celebrated new novel is a lovesong to imperishable friendship, a hymn to a brilliant and now-vanished world.
Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961 (Southern Literary Studies) by Gary Richards
Paperback: 243 pages
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press (May 1, 2007)
Amazon: Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961
A challenge to traditional criticism, this engaging study demonstrates that issues of sexualityand samesex desire in particularwere of central importance in the literary production of the Southern Renaissance. Especially during the end of that periodapproximately the 1940s and 1950sthe national literary establishment tacitly designated the South as an allowable setting for fictionalized deviancy, thus permitting southern writers tremendous freedom to explore sexual otherness. In Lovers and Beloveds, Gary Richards draws on contemporary theories of sexuality in reading the fiction of six writers of the era who accepted that potentially pejorative characterization as an opportunity: Truman Capote, William Goyen, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, Lillian Smith, and Richard Wright. Richards skillfully juxtaposes forgotten texts by those writers with canonical works to identify the complex narratives of samesex desire. In their novels and stories, the authors consistently reimagine gender roles, centralize homoeroticism, and probe its relationship with class, race, biological sex, and southern identity. This is the first book to assess the significance of samesex desire in a broad range of southern texts, making a crucial contribution to the study of both literature and sexuality.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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