Ellen Gilchrist Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 841 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ellen Gilchrist was born into a family of plantation owners in Mississippi and remained in the South almost all of her life, except for several of her adolescent years during World War II. During that time, her father, an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, moved the family through several small towns in the Midwest. When she was fourteen, Gilchrist began her career in journalism by writing a column for a local newspaper in Franklin, Kentucky. At nineteen, she dropped out of school and ran away to North Carolina to marry an engineering student. Together they had three children. Divorced in 1966, Gilchrist entered Millsaps College, where she studied creative writing under Eudora Welty. During the next years, Gilchrist continued to write, and she was married and divorced three more times, once to her first husband. It was toward the end of that period that she took real steps toward a career as a professional writer. The first of those steps was a position as editor for the New Orleans newspaper Vieux Carré Courier.

Gilchrist reported that by the late 1970’s she was tired of the social world of New Orleans, where she had lived during her marriages. At about the time she began working at the Vieux Carré Courier she sent some of her poems to Jim Whitehead, poet and novelist in the writing program at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He urged her to join his writing class, and she did so. Gilchrist said that the instant she...

(The entire section is 495 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

A Southern writer often compared to Bobbie Ann Mason, Carson McCullers, and Tennessee Williams, Ellen Gilchrist was born in Vicksburg,...

(The entire section is 275 words.)