William Howard Gass

Biografie şi Bibliografie

William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American  novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. He has written two novels, three collections of short stories, a collection of novellas, and seven volumes of essays, three of which have won National Book Critics Circle Award prizes and one of which, "A Temple of Texts," won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. His 1995 novel The Tunnel received the American Book Award.


William Howard Gass was born on July 30, 1924, in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, a steel town, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cite his characters as having these same qualities. His father had been trained as an architect but while serving during the First World War had sustained back injuries which forced him to take a job as a high school drafting and architectural drawing teacher. His mother was a housewife.

As a boy he read anything he could get his hands on. From "The Shadow" to "The History of the French Revolution," Gass read constantly, although there were no bookstores in the town of Warren. Later he would claim that the advent of "pocketbooks" saved his literary life. He'd save up all the money he earned or got and every two weeks head down and buy as many pocketbooks as he could afford. Even though Gass was always a reader his father disapproved of his aspirations and often berated him for it.

He attended Wesleyan University after graduating from Warren G. Harding High School, where he did very well excluding some difficulties in mathematics, then served as an Ensign in the Navy during World War II for three and half years, a period he describes as perhaps the worst of his life. He earned his A.B. in philosophy from Kenyon College in 1947 where he graduated magna cum laude. From there he entered Cornell University as a Susan Linn Fellow in philosophy and by 1954 had earned his Ph.D. in that subject. While at Cornell he studied under Max Black and briefly Ludwig Wittgenstein. In 1952 before graduating from Cornell he married Mary Pat O'Kelly. His dissertation, "A Philosophical Investigation of Metaphor", was based on his training as a philosopher of language. In graduate school Gass read the work of Gertrude Stein, who influenced his writing experiments.

Gass taught at The College of Wooster for four years, Purdue University for sixteen, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a professor of philosophy (1969 - 1978) and the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities (1979 - 1999). His colleagues there have included the writers Stanley Elkin, Howard Nemerov (1988 Poet Laureate of the United States), and Mona Van Duyn (1992 Poet Laureate). Since 2000, Gass has been the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities.

Gass is married to the architect Mary Henderson Gass, author of Parkview: A St. Louis Urban Oasis (2005). They have twin daughters. Catherine Gass is an artist teaching at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the photographer for the Newberry Library. Elizabeth Gass-Boshoven lives in Michigan with her husband and daughter. She is a Brief Strategic Family Therapist and her husband James Boshoven is a Special Education teacher.

Writing and publications

Earning a living for himself and his family from university teaching, Gass began to publish stories that were selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1959, 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1980, as well as Two Hundred Years of Great American Short Stories. His first novel, Omensetter's Luck, about life in a small town in Ohio in the 1890s, was published in 1966. Critics praised his linguistic virtuosity, establishing him as an important writer of fiction. Richard Gilman in The New Republic called it "the most important work of fiction by an American in this literary generation."[1] In 1968 he published In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, five stories dramatizing the theme of human isolation and the difficulty of love. That same year Gass published Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, an experimental novella illustrated with photographs and typographical constructs intended to help readers free themselves from the linear conventions of narrative. He has also published several collections of essays, including Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970) and Finding a Form (1996). His latest work of fiction, Cartesian Sonata and Other Novellas, was published in 1998. His work has also appeared in The Best American Essays collections of 1986, 1992, and 2000.

Gass has cited the anger he felt during his childhood as a major influence on his work, even stating that he writes "to get even." Despite his prolific output, he has said that writing is difficult for him. In fact, his epic novel The Tunnel, published in 1995, took Gass 26 years to write. On the subject of his slow and methodic pace he has said, "I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity."
A paperback copy of William H. Gass' controversial novel The Tunnel on top of two of his collections of essays: "Habitations of the Word" and "The World Within the Word"

Critical responses to The Tunnel upon its release included Robert Kelly's declaration that it was an "infuriating and offensive masterpiece," and Steven Moore's claim that it was ”a stupendous achievement and obviously one of the greatest novels of the century.” Michael Silverblatt of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review of the novel: "A bleak, black book, it engenders awe and despair. I have read it in its entirety 4 1/2 times, each time finding its resonance and beauty so great as to demand another reading. As I read, I found myself devastated by the thoroughness of the book's annihilating sensibility and revived by the beauty of its language, the complexity of its design, the melancholy, horror and stoic sympathy in its rendering of what we used to call the human condition." Gass, in reference to the harsh and disquieting nature of his novel The Tunnel said "I don't think anything is sacred and therefore I am prepared to extol or make fun of anything. People who have very settled opinions are going dislike this book because Kohler [the main character] is the worm inside all that stuff." An unabridged audio version of The Tunnel was released in 2006, with Gass reading the novel himself.

Gass typically devotes enormous attention to sentence construction. His prose has been described as flashy, difficult, edgy, masterful, inventive, and musical. Steven Moore, writing in The Washington Post, has called Gass "the finest prose stylist in America." Much of Gass's work is metafictional. In an interview with Anglistik Gass commented on the subject of his genre and form defying works, laughing off the title "Postmodern," and coining himself "Late" or "Decayed Modern"



    * Omensetter's Luck (1966)
    * In The Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968)
    * Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife (1968)
    * The Tunnel (1995)
    * Cartesian Sonata and Other Novellas (1998)
    * Middle C (in progress)


    * Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970)
    * On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976)
    * The World Within the Word (1978)
    * Habitations of the Word (1984)
    * Finding a Form: Essays (1997)
    * Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation (1999)
    * Tests of Time (2002)
    * Conversations With William H. Gass (2003)
    * A Temple of Texts (2006)

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