Mary Lawrence Gaitskill grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. Her father, who had served the military in the Normandy invasion in World War II, earned his living as a teacher of political science in a community college; her mother was a homemaker. Gaitskill married a fellow writer in 2001, shortly after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11.
Gaitskill ran away from home at the age of sixteen. Runaway sixteen-year-olds appear in several of her short stories. She supported herself by working as a stripper and had a number of liaisons that provided her with shelter and companionship during her adolescence. In retrospect, she philosophizes that her acquiescence to others subjected her to sexual encounters she had neither anticipated nor desired and that these affairs should, regardless of her complicity, be regarded as rapes. Especially when she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, her sexual life meant her subjection to friendly predators. These predations, according to her sensibility, are not totally distinguishable from the forcible rape she suffered when her assailant threatened her with death if she did not submit. Gaitskill’s strength lies in her assault upon any situation in which women find their independence compromised. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1981, having won the Hopwood Award for undergraduate fiction for a collection of stories titled “The Women Who Knew Judo, and Other Stories.” These are unpublished.
Gaitskill taught in several collegiate creative writing programs, including those at San Francisco State University and the University of Houston. She claims that she was terrified when she first started teaching because she did not have the slightest idea how to teach others the art of writing. Her success was attributed partly to her ability to draw from her students their most intimate feelings and her generosity as a listener; she engages students as a partner in writing, rather than as a mentor. She was awarded a yearlong Guggenheim grant, beginning in...
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