Alice Adams Biography
Alice Adams understood unfulfilled dreams like no one else. Her work was often defined by everyday people whose lives did not turn out the way they had hoped or expected. Adams’ perspective was based on experience. She toiled in unfulfilling jobs and spent much of her early adulthood in an unhappy marriage. One of her best-beloved stories, “Beautiful Girl,” is a case in point: it focuses on a past-her-prime beauty queen who has lapsed into alcoholism. As “Beautiful Girl” attests, Adams was keenly aware of the struggles and disappointments of women. Her characters could be difficult to like, but they were based on the real-life dreams and real-world failures faced by many American women, including Adams herself.
Facts and Trivia
- Born in Virginia, Adams studied at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduating at the end of the Second World War.
- Adams was widely recognized for her short stories and was the recipient of the prestigious O. Henry Award 23 times.
- Her prolific output as a writer frequently puts her in the company of other authors with lengthy bibliographies, such as John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.
- A divorcee raising a child on her own, Adams was over forty years old before she found success (and permanent employment) as a writer.
- Adams’ stories were often drawn from her own life. Her experiences as a secretary formed the basis for the novel Medicine Men.
Alice Boyd Adams was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on August 14, 1926, the daughter of Nicholson Adams, a professor, and Agatha (née Boyd) Adams, a writer. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Adams spent her first sixteen years. After receiving her B.A. degree from Radcliffe College in 1946, she married Mark Linenthal, Jr. Two years later, they moved to California, and in 1951, their only child, Peter, was born. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1958, following which Adams held a number of part-time clerical, secretarial, and bookkeeping jobs while rearing her son and writing short stories.
It was not until 1969 that she broke into the magazine market when The New Yorker bought her story “Gift of Grass.” Since then, her stories have continued to appear in The New Yorker as well as Redbook, McCall’s, and The Paris Review. In addition, Adams has taught at the University of California at Davis, the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University. She died on May 27, 1999, in San Francisco after being treated for heart problems.
Alice Boyd Adams was raised on a farm south of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her father, Nicholson Barney Adams, taught Spanish at the local university. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1945 and married Mark Linenthal, Jr., two years later. After spending some time in Paris, where Linenthal studied at the Sorbonne, the couple settled in California, where Linenthal taught English at San Francisco State University while completing his doctoral work for Stanford University. Their son, Peter Adams Linenthal, was born in 1951; Adams and Linenthal were divorced in 1958.
Adams’s first novel, Careless Love, published after the author had turned forty years old, quickly found an enthusiastic audience, particularly among women. The book tells the story of an adventuresome heroine, Daisy Duke Fabbri, who, eager to experience life, leaves a weak husband for a lover and a Latin lothario.
In her next novel, Families and Survivors, Adams chronicles the post-World War II lives of Louisa Calloway and Kate Flichinger, from their friendship as teenagers to the vicissitudes of marriage and divorce. Through Louisa’s hippie daughter the story comes full circle, for she is as different from Louisa as Louisa was from her own mother.
In Listening to Billie , Adams examines intense psychosexual situations. Evan Quarles, a professor and the husband of the heroine, Eliza, falls in love with “the most beautiful boy in the world,” a student in his Cicero class....
(The entire section is 2,312 words.)