hero-bio

Biography

Allan Gurganus

Since 1989, Allan Gurganus’s novels, stories and essays have become a singularly unified and living body of work. Known for dark humor, erotic candor, pictorial clarity and folkloric sweep, his prose is widely translated. Gurganus’s stories, collected as “Piccoli eroi”, were just published to strong Italian reviews. France’s La Monde has called him “a Mark Twain for our age, hilariously clear-eyed, blessed with perfect pitch.”

Fiction by Gurganus has inspired the greatest compliment of all: memorization and re-reading. The number of new critical works, the theatrical and film treatments of his fiction, testify to its durable urgency. Adaptations have won four Emmy. Robert Wilson of The American Scholar has called Gurganus “the rightful heir to Faulkner and Welty.” In a culture where `branding’ seems all-important, Gurganus has resisted any franchised repetition. Equally adept at stories and novels or novellas, his tone and sense of form can differ widely. On the page Gurganus continues to startle and grow.

Of his previous work “The Practical Heart”, critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times, “Masterly and deeply affecting…a testament to Mr. Gurganus’s ability to inhabit his characters’ inner lives and map their emotional histories.” The Atlantic called the same work, “An entertaining, disturbing and inspiring book—a dazzling maturation.” Of “Local Souls”, Wells Tower wrote: “It leaves the reader surfeited with gifts. This is a book to be read for the minutely tuned music of Gurganus’s language, its lithe and wicked wit, its luminosity of vision—shining all the brighter for the heat of its compassion. No living writer knows more about how humans matter to each other. These are tales to make us whole.”

Gurganus’s first published story “Minor Heroism” appeared in theNew Yorker when he was twenty six. In 1974, this tale offered the first gay character that magazine had ever presented. In 1989, after seven years’ composition, Gurganus presented the novel Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters). This first book spent eight months on theNew York Times bestseller list; it became the subject of a New Yorkercartoon and remains a clue on “Jeopardy” (Names for $400). 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 and won and a “Best Supporting Actress” Emmy for Cecily Tyson as the freed slave, Castalia.

Along with Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, Gurganus’s works include White People, (Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Pen-Faulkner Finalist) as well as the novel Plays Well With Others. His last book was The Practical Heart: Four Novellas (Lambda Literary Award). Gurganus’s short fiction appears in the New Yorker, Harper’sand other magazines. A recent essay was seen in The New York Review of Books. His stories have been honored by the O’Henry Prize Stories, Best American Stories, and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Gurganus was a recent John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. His novella Blessed Assurance: A Moral Tale, from White People, 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.


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’d gone to work with Grace Paley. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his mentors were Stanley Elkin and John Cheever. Mr. Gurganus has taught writing and literature at Stanford, Duke, Sarah Lawrence, the Michener Center at the University of Texas-Austin, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His students have included the novelists Ann Patchett, Elizabeth McCracken, Chris Offut, James Hines, Ayana Mathis, Justin Torres, Kate Christensen and Donald Antrim, among many others. Gurganus is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Returned from Manhattan twenty-odd 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 much American foreign policy. Gurganus’s political editorials appear in The New York Times.

Gurganus lives in a small town in North Carolina. He told a recent interviewer, “Novelists don’t start life till turning forty. By that measure, as an artist, I am a blushing twenty six year old. I’ve only just begun…”