Allan Gurganus’s novels, stories and essays stand as a singularly unified and living body of work. Known for their dark humor, erotic candor and folkloric sweep, his tales are now widely available in English and translation. Paris’s La Monde called him “a Mark Twain for our age, hilariously clear-eyed, blessed with perfect pitch.”
Since his first publication thirty years ago, fiction by Gurganus has inspired the greatest loyalty of all -- re-reading. The number of new critical works, plays and film based upon his fiction argue its urgent, central role. Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar, has called Gurganus “the rightful heir to Faulkner and Welty.” In a culture where familiar branding is all-important, Gurganus has resisted franchised repetition. His books differ widely. He continues to startle and grow on the page.
Gurganus’s first published story “Minor Heroism” appeared in the New Yorker when he was twenty six. In 1974, this tale offered the first gay character that magazine had ever presented. After seven years in composition, Gurganus presented 1989 novel Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters). His first book, it spent eight months on the New York Times bestseller list; it became the subject of a New Yorker cartoon and remains a clue on “Jeopardy” (Names for four hundred). The novel has been translated into twelve languages and has sold over two million copies. The CBS adaptation of the work, starring Donald Sutherland and Diane Lane, won four Emmy awards including Best Supporting Actress for Cecily Tyson as the freed slave, Castalia. Gurganus’s novella, Blessed Assurance has become part of the Harvard Business School’s Ethics curriculum. The work is discussed at length in Questions of Character (Harvard Business School Press) by Joseph L. Badaracco.
Allan Gurganus is a 2006 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He plans to complete a group of long stories Saint Everybody and the novel, Promise(N.C.). Gurganus’s published works include a collection of stories and novellas, White People (Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Pen-Faulkner Finalist) and the novel Plays Well With Others. His latest book is The Practical Heart: Four Novellas (Lambda Literary Award). Gurganus’s short fiction appears in The New Yorker, Harper’s and other magazines. His stories have honored by the O’Henry Prize Stories, Best American Stories The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction and Best New Stories of the South. He will edit the 2006 version of this last anthology, becoming the first writer-judge to replace its twenty-year editor, Shannon Ravenel.
Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1947 to a teacher and businessman, Gurganus first trained as a painter, studying at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His paintings and drawings are represented in private and public collections. Gurganus has illustrated three limited editions of his fiction. During a three-year stint onboard the USS Yorktown during the Vietnam War, he turned to writing. Gurganus subsequently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College where he worked with Grace Paley, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where his mentors were Stanley Elkin and John Cheever. Mr. Gurganus has taught writing and literature at Stanford, Duke, Sarah Lawrence, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His former students include the novelists Ann Patchett, Elizabeth McCracken and Donald Antrim among many others. Gurganus was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science. Returned from Manhattan fourteen years ago to live in his native North Carolina, Gurganus co-founded “Writers Against Jesse Helms.” He continues to be an eloquent critic of homophobia, racism and America’s imperial foreign policy under the Bush administration. Gurganus’s political editorials often appear in The New York Times.
Allan Gurganus’s novel-in-progress will be second in The Falls Trilogy that commenced with Widow. It is The Erotic History of a Southern Baptist Church.
Gurganus lives in a small town in North Carolina, rising at six A.M to write and garden daily. He told a recent interviewer, “Novelists don’t really start life till turning forty. By that measure, as an artist, I am just eighteen. I have only just begun…”