Robert (Lowell) Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa, on February 4, 1932, to Maxine (Sweet) Coover and Grant Marion Coover, but as a child of nine moved to Bedford, Indiana, and then later to Herrin, Illinois. At Herrin he was president of his high school class, edited school newspapers as “Scoop” Coover, and wrote a column called “Koover’s Korner.” In high school he avidly followed baseball and played tabletop baseball as well; the sport figures prominently in his second novel, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968). Coover attended Southern Illinois University from 1949 to 1951, where he worked as a reporter for the college newspaper, the Egyptian. In 1951 he transferred to Indiana University, from which he graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of arts degree in Slavic studies.
Until graduation he wrote for the Herrin Daily Journal, of which his father was managing editor. Coover’s first novel, Origin of the Brunists (1966), would feature the character of a small-town newspaper man. Shortly after graduation, Coover enlisted in the Navy and served as a lieutenant from 1953 to 1957. Most of his Korean War service was in Europe.
In the summer of 1957, Coover spent a month at Rainy Lake, Minnesota, where he began writing the innovative stories of his second book, Pricksongs and Descants (1969), including “The Magic Poker,” which mentions Rainy Lake. He discovered Samuel Beckett that summer, whose work influenced him profoundly. He later published an essay on Beckett, “The Last Quixote.”
In 1958, Coover began graduate studies at the University of Chicago, which he attended until 1961. He received an M.A. in general studies in the humanities in 1965. He traveled in Spain between 1958 and 1959. In June of 1959, he married María del Pilar, whom he had met while on a Mediterranean tour during his Korean War service. The couple honeymooned in southern Europe, traveling by motorcycle. Coover’s first publication arose from these travels: “One Summer in Spain: Five Poems” appeared in Fiddlehead in 1960.
Back at the University of Chicago, Coover was deeply influenced by Richard McKeon, a professor of philosophy and...
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