A. R. Gurney, Jr. Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr., nicknamed “Pete,” was born in Buffalo, New York, on November 1, 1930, the son of Albert Ransdell Gurney, Sr., a dealer in real estate and insurance, and Marion Spaulding Gurney. The young Gurney grew up in the exclusive suburbia he depicts in his plays. From St. Paul’s school, he went to Williams College, where he was graduated in 1952 with a B.A. degree in English literature. After graduation, he served three years (1952-1955) in the navy as an officer and then attended the Yale School of Drama, where he earned the M.F.A. degree in 1958. In 1984, he was awarded an honorary D.D.L. degree. In 1960, he began a long, distinguished career as teacher of literature and humanities at MIT.

In June, 1957, Gurney married Mary Forman Goodyear; they have four children: George, Amy, Evelyn, and Benjamin. They lived in Boston until 1983, when Gurney moved his family to New York to be near the theater, television, and publishers while he was on sabbatical from MIT. All this time he was concerned with the contrast between the values instilled in him as a youth and those of the world he was experiencing.

From early childhood, he had a passion for drama. He wrote his first play in kindergarten. His passion was fostered by his aunt, who liked to attend matinees but could find no one to go with her. It became Gurney’s lot to go, and he enjoyed every minute of the saturation. He also liked to listen to dramas on the radio and...

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A. R. Gurney, Jr. Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr., has been called one of the wittiest American writers for the stage; he is also one of the most prolific and widely produced American playwrights. Gurney was born into a family of high social standing. He attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At Williams, he was class poet and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Kappa Alpha fraternity, and the Gargoyle Society. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in 1952. After his graduation, he served in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1955.

Following his naval service, Gurney attended Yale University School of Drama. In 1957, he married Mary Forman “Molly” Goodyear. That same year, he received a J. Walter Thompson Fellowship. Following graduation in 1958 with an M.F.A. degree, he taught English and Latin at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Massachusetts. In 1960, he became an instructor in the humanities department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), advancing successively through the ranks to full professor in 1972. At MIT, he received an Old Dominion Fellowship and the Everett Baker Award for undergraduate teaching. In 1971, his play Scenes from American Life received the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award, in New York City, for most promising playwright. He was the recipient of the Rockefeller Playwright in Residence Award in 1977 and the National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Award for 1981-1982. In 1984, Gurney was awarded an honorary degree by his alma mater, Williams College. In 1987, he received the prestigious Award of Merit from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Gurney’s first plays, all relatively short, were written and produced when he was a graduate student at the Yale School of Drama. The Dining Room was Gurney’s first great success. It started Off-Broadway, received good reviews, and ran there for more than a year. In its first three years, it was produced countless times by professional and amateur groups both in the United States and abroad. In responding to this play, critics often referred to Gurney’s uncanny ability to focus on the telling details of upper-class reality as he reveals the erosion of this privileged class. The setting of the play reflects this theme: The dining room itself, unused and irrelevant, is the primary symbol of ethnic decline and nostalgia. It is, however, characteristic of Gurney’s work that the play is not all unmitigated...

(The entire section is 1021 words.)