Alice McDermott Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn to Irish Catholic parents and spent her childhood in Elmont, a small town on Long Island. As in her novel At Weddings and Wakes, she and her siblings were often taken to Brooklyn to see their grandmother. McDermott attended the local parochial school and an excellent Catholic girls’ high school. Although books and reading were important in the McDermott household, Alice’s parents did not consider early liking for writing particularly significant. They assumed that she would eventually become a secretary, and it was not until her second year at the State University of New York at Oswego that McDermott began to think seriously about earning her living by writing.

After she graduated in 1975, McDermott’s first job was a clerical one. For one year she worked as a typist at a vanity press in New York, and during this time she accumulated information and experience she later used in her first novel. At first McDermott restricted herself to writing short stories, and eventually she set herself a deadline: If within two years she had not published anything, she would forget about a writing career. Accordingly, she quit her job and enrolled in a master’s program at the University of New Hampshire, where she began reading contemporary women writers. Here she also encountered Mark Smith, a teacher and writer, who persuaded her to begin submitting her stories to magazines.

After receiving her M.A. in 1978 McDermott remained at the university for an additional year, teaching in the English department. She sold her first story to Ms. and before long she had also placed stories with Redbook, Seventeen, and Mademoiselle.

At the celebration following the publication of her first story McDermott met David M. Armstrong, a medical researcher. They were married on June 16, 1979, and moved to Manhattan, where McDermott became a fiction reader for Esquire and Redbook before taking six months off to write a novel. Eventually, following Mark Smith’s advice, McDermott took several short stories and the first fifty pages of A Bigamist’s Daughter to the literary agent Harriet Wasserman....

(The entire section is 905 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York, the third child and only daughter of William J. McDermott, a Consolidated Edison representative, and Mildred Lynch McDermott, a secretary and homemaker. Her parents were first-generation Irish Americans and devout Roman Catholics. Early in her childhood, her family moved to suburban Elmont, New York, on Long Island. McDermott attended Catholic schools, first Saint Boniface School in Elmont and then Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead. After graduating from Sacred Heart, she enrolled in the State University of New York at Oswego. Though she admits to taking college writing courses merely because she believed that they would be easy, a chance comment by one of her teachers made her begin to think seriously about a writing career. However, her parents convinced her that the idea was impractical, and after she graduated in 1975, McDermott went to work as a typist at Vantage Press, a vanity press in New York.

Nevertheless, McDermott felt that she should at least try to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer. If in two years she had made no progress, she decided, she would find another line of work. As soon as she had secured a teaching assistantship at the University of New Hampshire, which would enable her to support herself while she studied creative writing, McDermott quit her job in New York, moved to New Hampshire, and began work on a master’s degree. She received her M.A. in 1978, then remained at the...

(The entire section is 477 words.)


Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York in 1975. Three years later, she earned a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. Over the years, she has taught writing at several schools, including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In 1979, McDermott married David Armstrong, who is a neuroscientist. The couple has three children. The family lives in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C.

McDermott’s books include A Bigamist’s Daughter (1982), about a cynical editor at a vanity publishing company; That Night (1987), a story of love gained and lost between two high school sweethearts, which caused quite a literary stir by winning the PEN/Faulkner Award and becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; and Weddings and Wakes (1992), which tells the story of four sisters and became a New York Times best seller. But it was McDermott’s fourth novel that earned the most acclaim. Charming Billy (1998), a story about a tragic yet romantic man, captured the National Book Award. Child of My Heart was published in 2002 and is a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist refuses to accept the world that is handed to her and attempts to create a world of her own. After This was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.