Bobbie Ann Mason

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Bobbie Ann Mason Biography

Bobbie Ann Mason began her career writing articles about teen idols for magazines such as Movie Life and Star Parade in the 1960s—if there was anything to report on Annette Funicello or Troy Donahue, Mason knew it. But in sharp contrast to her stint as pop-celebrity journalist, Mason earned a PhD in English from the University of Connecticut with a dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada. Her first book, The Girl Sleuth, was a work of criticism that tackled fictional female detectives such as Nancy Drew from a feminist perspective. Mason then published several stories and won the 1983 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for outstanding works of short fiction. Her novel In Country is considered one of the most influential books of the 1980s.

Facts and Trivia

  • Mason has received many prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
  • In Country was made into a film in 1989 that starred Bruce Willis and Emily Lloyd. Critics have not been overly kind to the adaptation.
  • Mason grew up on a fifty-four-acre farm in Kentucky and continues to reside there. She is also currently a writer in residence at the University of Kentucky.
  • In high school, Mason was the coordinator of the Hilltoppers fan club. The Hilltoppers were a male quintet from Kentucky that gained national popularity.
  • Mason’s book Clear Springs is her first memoir. She insists that it is not at all what she set out to write. “But that’s often true of a work,” she says. “Usually I don’t know where I’m going at all. I’m just following something.”


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Bobbie Ann Mason was born in Mayfield, Kentucky, on May 1, 1940. Her parents, Wilburn A. and Christianna Lee Mason, operated a small dairy farm, and Mason’s writing frequently reflects this rural heritage. Mason did farm chores but also explored popular culture. In 1954, she became the national president of the Hilltoppers fan club and attended concerts by this musical group throughout the South and Midwest. As editor and chief author of Hilltopper Topics, the fan club newsletter, Mason also displayed an early interest in writing.

After graduating from Mayfield High School, Mason attended the University of Kentucky, where she studied English and wrote for the school newspaper. During the summers she also worked as a reporter for her hometown newspaper, the Mayfield Messenger. Mason earned a B.A. degree in 1962 and was soon employed by Ideal Publishing Company in New York City as a writer for fan magazines. In moving from rural Kentucky to a big city and taking on the job of interviewing famous actors and musicians, Mason described herself as a victim of culture shock.

In 1963, Mason left New York City to enter graduate school at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and in 1966, she received an M.A. in English. Later that year she entered a Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut. There she met Roger Rawlings, whom she married on April 12,1969.

Mason received her Ph.D. in 1972 and began teaching at Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania. Mason’s doctoral dissertation focused on Vladimir Nabokov, an author whose works are very different from Mason’s but whose intricate style she greatly admires. Her first book, Nabokov’s Garden: A Guide to “Ada” (1974), is a scholarly work based on her dissertation. In 1975, she published a strikingly different scholarly book, The Girl Sleuth, in which Mason examines the self-reliant heroines of her favorite childhood books—Nancy Drew and other young female detectives. Thus, Mason’s experiences and her writings at this point in life display an unusual mixture of rural simplicity and urban sophistication, of popular culture and academic analysis.

In 1979, Mason gave up her teaching job and began to write full time. Although as a student she had contributed some stories to the University of Kentucky literary magazine, her first significant success as a writer of fiction did not come until February 18, 1980, when the New Yorker published her story “Offerings.” On October 20, 1980, the New Yorker published a second story, “Shiloh,” and Mason soon became a regular contributor of both fiction and nonfiction. Mason’s first collection of short stories, Shiloh, and Other Stories, appeared in 1982. It received the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Mason’s first novel, In Country (1985), focused on the lingering effects within the United States of the Vietnam War. In 1983, during a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Mason had found in the list of names on the wall a variation on her own name—Bobby G. Mason. This accidental discovery, implying that she and other civilians at home were also casualties of the war, inspired the final section of In Country, where the book’s main characters make a pilgrimage to the memorial. In 1985, Mason also published “Big Bertha Stories,” a poignant account of how war experiences affected one soldier and his family. In 1989, Warner Bros. released a film version of In Country, and Mason received from the Vietnam Veterans of America a citation honoring her for increasing public understanding of the consequences of the war.

In 1988, Mason published

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In 1988, Mason publishedSpence + Lila, a novella whose unusual title identifies the two main characters and suggests, typographically, their close relationship. The aging married couple, who resemble Mason’s own parents, must deal with Lila’s breast cancer. Throughout the experience their love remains quiet and undemonstrative but still sustaining.

During the 1980’s, Mason published numerous stories in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other journals. The title story of her second collection of stories, Love Life (1989), focuses on love, and other stories in the volume present variations on that emotion.

In 1990, after a long residence in the Northeast, Mason moved back to Kentucky. In 1995, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky, and she subsequently became a writer-in-residence there. This move back home apparently inspired Mason to contemplate her past. In 1999, she published Clear Springs: A Memoir. As the title of this book suggests, it describes some of the family and regional sources from which Mason’s inspiration as a writer has flowed.

Mason continued to publish both fiction and nonfiction into the twenty-first century; several short stories were collected in Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail in 2001. In 2002, she published a biography of Elvis Presley in the Penguin Lives series. This sensitive treatment of a troubled music icon displayed Mason’s continuing interest in popular culture and those who create it.


Critical Essays