Alison Lurie Biography


Alison Lurie was born in Chicago on September 3, 1926. She attended Radcliffe College, where she received an A.B. degree in 1947. The following year she married Jonathan Peale Bishop, Jr., who went on to become a professor of English at Cornell University. Before their divorce in 1985, the Bishops had three sons, John, Jeremy, and Joshua.

Lurie’s first book was a privately printed memoir of a close friend, poet and playwright Violet Lang, but her first significant work of fiction was Love and Friendship (1962), a novel that contains the themes of domestic dissatisfaction and adultery that Lurie would continue to explore in later work. Its principal character, Emily Stockwell Turner, is the prototype of Katherine Cattleman, Erica Tate, and the other unfulfilled, frustrated, middle-class American women who populate Lurie’s narratives.

In addition to being a housewife and mother and working occasionally as a ghostwriter and librarian, Lurie continued to publish her novels, gaining more critical acclaim and a wider readership with each one: The Nowhere City (1965), Imaginary Friends (1967), and Real People (1969). Moreover, she began to garner fellowships and grants that helped further her career as a writer: Yaddo fellowships in 1963, 1964, and 1966 (Yaddo, an artist’s colony, gave Lurie material for Real People); a Guggenheim grant in 1965-1966; and a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1967-1968....

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Author Gore Vidal has called Alison Lurie the “Queen Herod of modern fiction,” a reference to her capacity for slaying what seems most sacred to many people—marriage and the family, higher learning and intellect, and American lifestyles and values. While Lurie has an undeniable wit and savage irony in her novels, she also has a passion for truth, a generosity of spirit, and a reluctance to judge human conduct by any one set of restrictive standards.

Taken together, her novels constitute a major achievement of comic writing and detached observation of American life, and the artistry of her prose and carefully crafted narratives place her in the tradition of America’s finest novelists.


Alison Lurie was born September 3, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up in White Plains, New York. Her Latvian-born father was a scholar, a teacher, and a socialist who later became the founder and executive director of the Council of Jewish Federations. Lurie’s mother, also a socialist, was a former journalist for a Chicago newspaper. Lurie suffered a minor birth injury that affected the hearing in her left ear and also caused some damage to her facial muscles. An avid reader as a child, she began at about the age of thirteen to read such authors as Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, and Jane Austen. In 1947, she graduated from Radcliffe College, where she had met many people who later became important literary figures,...

(The entire section is 237 words.)