- William Styron
name = William Styron
caption = Author William Styron answers a question from the audience at a panel discussion on
November 4, 1998.
June 11, 1925
Newport News, Virginia
November 1, 2006
occupation = Novelist, Essayist
William Clark Styron, Jr. (
June 11 1925– November 1 2006) was an American novelistand essayist.
Before the publication of his memoir "Darkness Visible" in 1990, 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 Virginiaslave revolt; and
* "Sophie's Choice" (1979), about
Holocaustsurvivor 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". This memoir was a description of the author's descent into depression, which he called the "despair beyond despair."
William Styron was born in the
Hilton Villagehistoric district [ [http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1997/vp971102/11020135.htm The Return Of A Village Histon'S Boosters See Potential In Its Quaint Wwi Structures ] ] in Newport News, Virginia, less than a hundred miles from the site of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, later the source for his 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 cancerin 1939, following a decade-long battle.
Styron attended Hilton Elementary School until third grade. His father soon sent the increasingly rebellious Styron to
Christchurch School, an Episcopal college-preparatory schoolin 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, but eventually 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, which would later grant him a B.A. in English; here Styron also published his first fiction, a short story heavily influenced by William Faulkner, in an anthology of student work.
After his 1947 graduation, Styron took an editing position with
McGraw-Hillin New York City. Styron later recalled the misery of this work in an autobiographical passage of "Sophie’s Choice", and after provoking his employers into firing him, he set about his first novel in earnest. Three years later, he published the novel, the story of a dysfunctional Virginia family culminating in a young woman’s suicide, as " Lie Down in Darkness" (1951). The novel received overwhelming critical acclaim. Styron received the prestigious Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Romeand the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but his recall into the military owing to the Korean Warprevented 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.
Styron then spent an extended period in
Europe. In Paris, he became friends with Romain Gary, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, James Baldwin, James Jones and Irwin Shaw, among others. The group founded the celebrated " Paris Review" in 1953.
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
Baltimorepoet, 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. The Playhouse 90episode "The Long March" (1958) was based on his aforementioned novelette.
Styron’s experiences during this period would later be recalled in "
Set This House on Fire" (1960), a novel about intellectual American expatriates on the Riviera. The novel received, at best, mixed reviews. The novel received a far different reception in Europe, however, where its translation achieved best-seller status, far outselling the American edition, which was itself considered a success by its publisher.
The Nat Turner controversy
Above the door to his studio, Styron posted a quotation from
Gustave Flaubert:cquote|Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. A dictumof sorts, Flaubert's words would prove prophetic over the intervening years. The response by others to Styron's next two published novels, published between 1967 and 1979, would indeed be violent. 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 Baldwinwas his guest for several months, composing his novel "Another Country".
Ironically, "Another Country" would be criticized by some
African-Americangroups for black author Baldwin’s choice of a white protagonist, leading Baldwin to foresee even greater problems ahead for Styron; “Bill’s going to catch it from both sides” he told an interviewer immediately following the novel’s 1967 publication. Baldwin’s words also proved prophetic. Despite public defenses of Styron by both Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, a large group of African-American critics reviled Styron’s portrayal of Turner as racist stereotyping.
Particularly controversial was a passage in which Turner fantasizes about raping a white woman, which several critics pointed to as a dangerous perpetuation of a traditional Southern justification for lynching. In reality, Turner had a black slave wife and son as noted in "The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner" by
Lerone Bennettand Alvin F. Poussaint. Despite the controversy, the novel became a runaway critical and financial success, eventually winning the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Fictionas well as the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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 minor debate of its own. The novel told the story of Sophie (a Polish Roman Catholicwho has physically survived Auschwitz), Nathan (her brilliant, mercurial and menacing Jewish lover) and Stingo (a Southern transplant in post WWII- Brooklynwho is in love with Sophie himself) won the 1980 National Book Award and was a nationwide bestseller. A 1982 film version was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Meryl Streepwinning the Academy Award for Best Actressfor her portrayal of Sophie. Kevin Klineand Peter MacNicolplayed Nathan and Stingo, respectively.
William Styron was awarded the
Prix mondial Cino Del Ducain 1985. That year, he suffered from a serious depression which he would later recall in his popular memoir "Darkness Visible" (1990). His short story "Shadrach" was filmed, under the same title, in 1998, co-directed by his daughter Susanna. His other two 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 psychologyat 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).
Styron died from
pneumoniaon November 1, 2006, at the age of 81 in Martha's Vineyard.
Lie Down in Darkness", 1951
*"The Long March", 1952 (serial), 1956 (book)
Set This House on Fire", 1960
*"The Confessions of Nat Turner", 1967
*"Sophie's Choice", 1979
This Quiet Dust, and Other Writings", 1982, expanded 1993
Havanas in Camelot", 2008
ources and External links
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/02/books/02styron.html?hp&ex=1162443600&en=f79ebb37c1d8486a&ei=5094&partner=homepage William Styron, Novelist, Dies at 81] , obituary written by
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, published in The New York Times, Nov. 2, 2006
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/williamstyron/ Audio Interviews with William Styron - RealAudio at Wired for Books.org by Don Swaim]
* [http://theparisreview.org/viewinterview.php/prmMID/5114 "The Paris Review" interview]
* [http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,918606,00.html "Tidewater traumas": profile by James Campbell at "The Guardian Unlimited" website (March 22, 2003)]
* [http://www.charlierose.com/shows/1998/05/22/3/a-discussion-about-mental-illness Charlie Rose with William Styron - A discussion about mental illness - 50 mins interview video]
* [http://www.charlierose.com/shows/2006/11/03/2/an-appreciation-of-author-william-styron An Appreciation of William Styron - Charlie Rose - 55 mins video]
NAME= Styron, William Clark, Jr.
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Novelist, Essayist
DATE OF BIRTH=
June 11, 1925
PLACE OF BIRTH=
Newport News, Virginia
DATE OF DEATH=
November 1, 2006
PLACE OF DEATH=
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