Allan Gurganus (gur-GAN-ihs) is an American novelist and short-story writer whose work has been shaped both by his southern background and by his gay sexual orientation. He is the oldest of the four sons of M. F. and Ethel Gurganus. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a supermarket manager who later became a Baptist lay preacher. Gurganus has cited his early experience with fundamentalist Christianity as an important influence on his writing.
Early in life, Gurganus found an outlet for artistic expression in oil painting, a talent he pursued throughout high school in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. After graduation, he briefly attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Later, while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, he began to read literature seriously and discovered a passion for writing that soon overtook his interest in painting. His visual art occasionally has accompanied his published fiction.
In 1970, he entered Sarah Lawrence College, where Grace Paley was his professor. Upon finishing his undergraduate degree there, he received a scholarship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a protégé of John Cheever. It was Cheever who, in 1974, presented Gurganus’s short story “Minor Heroism” for publication in The New Yorker. A story of conflict between father and son, it became the first gay-themed fictional work to be published by the magazine.
Gurganus continued to publish both fiction and nonfiction throughout the following decade, while teaching at the University of Iowa, Stanford and Duke...
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