John Richard Hersey is considered by some to be the most gifted American writer of the contemporary history novel, or “new journalism,” as it came to be called. He was born in Tianjin, China, to the American missionaries Roscoe Monroe and Grace Baird Hersey. In 1924 the family returned to the United States, where Hersey attended public schools and Hotchkiss preparatory high school before earning a B.A. from Yale University in 1936. During 1936 to 1937 he studied eighteenth century English literature at the University of Cambridge and spent the summer of 1937 as a private secretary, driver, and factotum for the novelist Sinclair Lewis.
In 1937 Hersey began a career as a journalist. He worked as a war correspondent for Time and Life magazines during World War II, reporting from both the Asian and European theaters. After 1945 Hersey employed his journalistic talents intermittently as a writer for Life, The New Yorker, and a variety of other magazines. Hersey maintained a lifelong interest in education. He not only served on the faculties of several major universities and as writer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome (1970-1971) but was also an active member of local school boards and several national committees or councils of education, including the National Citizens’ Council for the Public Schools (1956-1958) and the National Committee for the Support of the Public Schools (1962-1968). In 1940 Hersey married Frances Ann Cannon, with whom he had four children before they were divorced in 1958. Hersey had a fifth child with his second wife, Barbara Day Adams Kaufman, whom he married in 1958. After retiring from the faculty at Yale, Hersey spent summers at Martha’s Vineyard and the rest of the year at Key West, where he died in 1993.
John Hersey’s success as a writer lies in his ability to combine the skills of a journalist with those of a novelist to produce novels of contemporary history. By presenting history as...
(The entire section is 814 words.)