William H. Gass is one of a handful of contemporary American writers who can justifiably be described as pioneers—that is, writers who eschew the well-trod ways of the mass of their fellow writers and chart new directions for literature. The fact that he has been as frequently assailed—most famously by the novelist John Gardner—as praised for his innovations is perhaps the best proof that Gass has indeed made his mark on the literary world. Along with John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and a few other innovators, Gass has shown the reader the artifice behind the art of fiction. At the same time, he has created memorable characters involved in gripping conflicts. Rather than an experimenter or old-fashioned storyteller, though, Gass may best be seen as an impeccable stylist. It is this interest in the relation among the sounds of words that most clearly unifies his short fiction, novellas, novels, and essays. Among his awards and honors are a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1965), the Hovde Prize for Good Teaching (1967), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1969), and the National Institute for Arts and Letters prize for literature (1975). He has also received the National Medal of Merit for fiction (1979), the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism (1986) for Habitations of the Word: Essays (1985), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the American Book Award (1996) for The Tunnel (1995), National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism award (1997) for Finding a Form (1996), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lannan Foundation (1997). He has also received honorary doctorates from Kenyon College, George Washington University, and Purdue University.