Study Guide

Robert Coover

Robert Coover Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111207072-Coover.jpgRobert Coover. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

Robert Coover Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beginning with his earliest publications, Coover has challenged the American literary and cultural status quo. He also challenges the reader. Coover mixes realism with the fantastic, interrogates history, and rewrites the sacred texts of world culture, whether Bible stories, children’s stories, myths, fairy tales, or folk tales. He dismantles the accepted and the expected to create the unexpected, to move his readers from the past to the future.

Robert Coover Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Robert Lowell Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa. His family soon moved to Indiana and then to Herrin, Illinois. His father managed the local newspaper, the Herrin Daily Journal, which prompted Coover’s interest in journalism. His college education began at Southern Illinois University (1949-1951), but he transferred to Indiana University, where he received a B.A., with a major in Slavic studies, in 1953. After graduation, Coover was drafted and joined the United States Naval Reserve.

While in Spain, he met Maria del Pilar Sans-Mallafré, who became his wife on June 13, 1959. During these years, his interest in fiction began. His first published story, “Blackdamp,” was the seed of his first novel, The Origin of the Brunists. He received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1965. During the following years, Coover and his family alternated stays in Europe with periods in the United States. The several awards he received during the 1970’s made him financially secure and allowed him to continue writing.

Coover has held appointments at Bard College, the University of Iowa, Columbia University, Princeton University, the Virginia Military Institute, and he has been a distinguished professor at Brown University since 1979. He has also been writer-in-residence at Wisconsin State University. In spite of a large amount of time spent abroad (in Europe and in South America) and his outspoken need to take distance from his...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Robert Coover Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Robert Lowell Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa, on February 4, 1932. His family later moved to Indiana and then to Herrin, Illinois, where his father, Grant Marion Coover, managed the town newspaper. (Both the newspaper and a local mining disaster figure prominently in Coover’s first novel.) Small-town life as the son of a newspaperman gave Coover both an interest in journalism and a desire to travel. After beginning his college education at nearby Southern Illinois University(1949-1951), he transferred to Indiana University, where he received a B.A. in 1953, at which time he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he attained the rank of lieutenant. While serving in Europe, he met Marie del Pilar San-Mallafre, whom he married on June 13, 1959.

Coover’s serious interest in fiction dates from the period immediately prior to his marriage, and his novel writing followed the favorable response to his first published story, “Blackdamp” (1961), which he reworked and expanded into The Origin of the Brunists. Unable to make a living as a fiction writer, Coover left Spain, his wife’s native country, and began teaching in the United States; he held positions at Bard College (1966-1967), the University of Iowa (1967-1969), Columbia University (1972), Princeton University (1972-1973), and Virginia Military Institute (1976), and has served as writer-in-residence at Wisconsin State University-Superior (1968) and Washington University (1969). Since 1979, he has taught at Brown University....

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Robert Coover Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207072-Coover.jpgRobert Coover. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Robert Lowell Coover has written in a variety of literary forms, including that of short fiction, drama, film script, novella, and review-essay, of which he wrote a handful on such writers as Samuel Beckett and Gabriel García Márquez, for whom he has a special affinity. It is through the novel, however, that he achieved his greatest renown. A major figure in twentieth century American literature, he demonstrated no interest whatsoever in the celebrity and mass appeal that in the West are often equated with literary success. On the other hand, it is from the same mass culture that Coover draws the subjects of his fiction, among them baseball, Cold War paranoia, apocalyptic religion, Charles Chaplin, Richard Nixon, and Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (1957).

Coover was born in the small mining town of Charles City, Iowa, where his father managed the local newspaper. After college, a tour of duty in the Navy, and marriage, Coover began teaching (at Bard College and other colleges) while devoting as much time as possible to his writing. Unlike the majority of so-called academic writers, Coover spent most of his career away from the universities until the early 1980’s, when he joined the faculty of Brown University. Encouraged to expand and elaborate on the mining materials in his early story “Blackdamp” (1961), Coover produced the work that established his importance as a young as well as daring—and, to some reviewers, iconoclastic—writer, The Origin of the Brunists, which won the 1966 William Faulkner Award for best first novel.

The thematic and technical preoccupations of Coover’s entire career can be found in this novel. Coover is in many ways a moralist determined to show the error of human ways. He positions human beings not at the center of the world but rather at the center of the fictions they themselves construct to explain that world and make it amenable to human habitation and their inflated sense of their own self-importance. Longing for stasis and immortality, Coover’s characters persist in believing in such used-up forms and ideas as realism, reason, progress, and religion, all the metaphors they have come to accept as reality. Such acceptance prevents them from taking responsibility for their own existence as the begetters of the fictive beliefs by which they live. Coover’s narrative method stands as the antithesis of his characters’ static obsessiveness. Rather than allowing himself to be imprisoned by fiction, Coover exploits fiction’s metaphoric possibilities, making it increasingly difficult...

(The entire section is 1052 words.)