Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Alice Boyd Adams was born August 14, 1926, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the only child of Nicholson B. Adams, a professor, and Agatha Erskine Boyd Adams, a writer. She entered Radcliffe College at the age of sixteen and graduated with a B.A. in 1946. She married Mark Linenthal, Jr., a university professor, in 1947.
Adams relocated to California with her husband, who had found a teaching job at San Francisco State University beginning in the early 1950’s. Adams would base many of her novels and short stories in and around San Francisco. The couple’s son, Peter, was born in 1951. Holding down various jobs such as a clerk, a secretary or a bookkeeper, following her divorce from Linenthal in 1958, Adams was the character later portrayed in her own books and stories: She was an intelligent, vibrant woman with much to offer the world, struggling to find her talent and voice.
Adams’s first short story, “Winter Rain” appeared in Charm in July, 1959. She has been described by writer Mary Gaitskill as having “intense elegance” and “grace,” and possessing “an organic mental integrity.” Later in Adams’s career, she taught creative-writing courses at Stanford University and the University of California, Davis, and Berkeley. She was always supportive of younger writers.
IntroductionNobody understood unfulfilled dreams quite like Alice Adams did. Her work was often defined by everyday people whose lives did not turn out the way they had hoped or expected. Adams’ perspective was based on experience. She toiled in unfulfilling jobs and spent much of her early adulthood in an unhappy marriage. One of her best-beloved stories, “Beautiful Girl,” is a case in point: it focuses on a past-her-prime beauty queen who has lapsed into alcoholism. As “Beautiful Girl” attests, Adams was keenly aware of the struggles and disappointments of women. Her characters could be difficult to like, but they were based in the real-life dreams and real-world failures faced by many American women, including Adams herself.
- Though born in Virginia, Adams studied at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduating at the end of the Second World War.
- Adams was widely recognized for her short stories and won the prestigious O. Henry Award 19 times.
- Her prolific output as a writer frequently puts her in the company of other authors with lengthy bibliographies, such as John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.
- A divorcee raising a child on her own, Adams was over 40 years old before she found success (and permanent employment) as a writer.
- Adams’ stories were often drawn from her own life. Her experiences as a secretary formed the basis the novel Medicine Men.