William Styron

Biografie şi Bibliografie

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William Clark Styron, Jr. (June 11, 1925 – November 1, 2006) was an American novelist and essayist who won major literary awards for his work.

For much of his career, Styron was best known for his novels, which included

    * Lie Down in Darkness (1951), which he wrote at age 25;
    * The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), narrated by Nat Turner, the leader of an 1831 Virginia slave revolt; and
    * Sophie's Choice (1979), about Holocaust survivor Sophie "and her two men: Nathan, brilliant and dangerous...and Stingo, the loneliest, horniest would-be writer in New York."

Styron's influence deepened and his readership expanded with the publication of Darkness Visible in 1990. This memoir, originally intended as a magazine article, chronicled the author's descent into depression and his near-fatal night of "despair beyond despair."

Early years

William Styron was born in the Hilton Village historic district[1] of Newport News, Virginia. He grew up in the South and was steeped in its history. His birthplace was less than a hundred miles from the site of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, later the source for Styron's most famous and controversial novel.

Although Styron’s paternal grandparents had been slave owners, his Northern mother and liberal Southern father gave him a broad perspective on race relations. Styron’s childhood was a difficult one: his father, a shipyard engineer, suffered from clinical depression, which Styron himself would later experience. His mother died from breast cancer in 1939 when Styron was a boy, following a decade-long battle.

Styron attended public school until third grade, when his father sent him to Christchurch School, an Episcopal college-preparatory school in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Styron once said, "But of all the schools I attended ... only Christchurch ever commanded something more than mere respect — which is to say, my true and abiding affection."

On graduation, Styron enrolled in Davidson College and joined Phi Delta Theta. He dropped out to join the Marines toward the end of World War II. Though Styron was made a lieutenant, the Japanese surrendered before Styron’s ship left San Francisco. Styron then enrolled in Duke University, where he earned a B.A. in English. It was here that he published his first fiction, a short story heavily influenced by William Faulkner, in an anthology of student work.

Early novels

After his 1947 graduation, Styron took an editing position with McGraw-Hill in New York City. Styron later recalled the misery of this work in an autobiographical passage of Sophie’s Choice. After provoking his employers into firing him, he set about writing his first novel in earnest. Three years later, he published the novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), the story of a dysfunctional Virginia family. The novel received overwhelming critical acclaim. Styron received the prestigious Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Rome and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His recall into the military due to the Korean War prevented him from immediately accepting this award. After his 1952 discharge for eye problems, Styron transformed his experience at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina into his short novel, The Long March, published serially the following year. This was adapted for the Playhouse 90 episode The Long March in 1958.

Styron spent an extended period in Europe. In Paris, he became friends with writers Romain Gary, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, James Baldwin, James Jones and Irwin Shaw, among others. The group founded the magazine Paris Review in 1953. It became a celebrated literary journal.

The year 1953 was eventful for Styron in another way. Finally able to take advantage of his Rome Prize, he traveled to Italy. At the American Academy, he renewed an acquaintance with a young Baltimore poet, Rose Burgunder, to whom he had been introduced the previous fall at Johns Hopkins University. They were married in Rome in the spring of 1953.

Some of Styron’s experiences during this period inspired his Set This House on Fire (1960), a novel about intellectual American expatriates on the Riviera. The novel received, at best, mixed reviews in the United States although its publisher considered it successful in terms of sales. In Europe, however, its translation into French achieved best-seller status, far outselling the American edition.

The Nat Turner controversy

Above the door to his studio, Styron posted a quotation from Gustave Flaubert:
“ Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. ”

A dictum of sorts, Flaubert's words would prove prophetic over the intervening years. The originality of Styron's next two novels, published between 1967 and 1979, may have caused the controversial responses they received. Wounded by his first truly harsh reviews for Set This House On Fire, Styron spent years researching and composing his next novel, the fictitious memoirs of the historical Nat Turner. During this period, James Baldwin was his guest for several months, while composing his own novel Another Country.

At a time of the Black Power movement and emphasis on black culture, some blacks criticized Another Country for black author Baldwin’s choice of a white protagonist. Baldwin foresaw even greater problems ahead for Styron in his work on Nat Turner; “Bill’s going to catch it from both sides”, he told an interviewer immediately following the 1967 publication of Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner. Baldwin’s words proved prophetic. Despite public defenses of Styron by both Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, numerous black critics reviled Styron’s portrayal of Turner as racist stereotyping.

Particularly controversial was a passage in which Turner fantasizes about raping a white woman. Styron also writes a twisted event where Turner and another slave boy have a homosexual encounter while alone in the woods. This, according to many African people, is quite disrespectful and agenda pushing.[citation needed] Several critics pointed to this as a dangerous perpetuation of a traditional Southern justification for lynching. Despite the controversy, the novel became a runaway critical and financial success, eventually winning the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Later works

Though Styron's next novel, Sophie's Choice (1979), could hardly match the fervor that followed Confessions of Nat Turner, his decision to portray a non-Jewish victim of the Holocaust sparked a debate of its own. The novel told the story of Sophie (a Polish Roman Catholic who survived Auschwitz), Nathan (her brilliant, mercurial and menacing Jewish lover), and Stingo (a Southern transplant in post WWII-Brooklyn who was in love with Sophie.) It won the 1980 National Book Award and was a nationwide bestseller. A 1982 film version was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Meryl Streep winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Sophie. Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol played Nathan and Stingo, respectively.

William Styron was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca in 1985. That year, he suffered from a serious depression, which he later wrote about in his popular memoir Darkness Visible (1990).

His short story Shadrach was filmed in 1998, under the same title, and was co-directed by his daughter Susanna. His two other daughters are also artists: Paola, an internationally acclaimed modern dancer, and Alexandra, a novelist All The Finest Girls (2001). Styron's son Thomas is a professor of clinical psychology at Yale University.

Styron's other works include the play In the Clap Shack (1973) and a collection of his nonfiction pieces, This Quiet Dust (1982).

In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Styron died from pneumonia on November 1, 2006, at the age of 81 in Martha's Vineyard. He is buried at West Chop Cemetery in Vineyard Haven, Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA

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