Ellen Louise Gilchrist (GIHL-krihst) is one of the most prolific and widely read contemporary southern writers. Her stories “Rich” and “Summer, an Elegy” (from In the Land of Dreamy Dreams) received a Pushcart Prize, and Victory over Japan won an American Book Award. The experiences of Gilchrist’s strong-willed heroines resemble her own rather turbulent life. Gilchrist and her older brother Dooley spent much of their childhood at their maternal grandparents’ plantation in Issaquena County, Mississippi. Later, not unlike Gilchrist’s central, recurring character Rhoda Manning, her father, an engineer and one-time professional baseball player, traveled across the country with his family in pursuit of assignments. Gilchrist grew up in several small southern and midwestern towns, the places of her stories. Her contributions for National Public Radio (1984-1985), collected in Falling Through Space, are a tribute to these early years and to her coming-of-age as a writer. In this work, Gilchrist divulges that her favorite character, Rhoda, and Rhoda’s brother, Dudley, who are featured in many stories and in the novel Net of Jewels, were closely modeled on her own experience.
Gilchrist’s schooling was characterized more by voracious reading than by regular school attendance. At the age of nineteen she eloped. Gilchrist married and divorced three more times; the third time she remarried her first husband, who was also the father of her three sons. After her first divorce, she went back to school. In 1967, while at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, she took creative writing classes from Eudora Welty.
Gilchrist did not embark on a professional writing career until the age of forty, partly because she regards the solitary act of writing as being incompatible with romantic happiness and family life. In her younger days she was too preoccupied with raising a family to submit to the lonely rigors of writing. While living in New Orleans, the setting of many stories, where she mingled with...
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