Evan S. Connell, Jr. Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Evan Shelby Connell, Jr., is one of the more versatile and wide-ranging figures in contemporary American letters. As novelist, short-story writer, poet, and historian, his interests range from the modern world to the vanished societies of antiquity. After growing up in Missouri, Connell interrupted his education at Dartmouth College to become a pilot with the U.S. Navy during World War II. At the end of the war, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to obtain his B.A. from the University of Kansas. After further study at Stanford, Columbia, and San Francisco State Universities, Connell decided to make his career in the literary field. From 1959 to 1965, he served as an editor of Contact, a small literary magazine, but his main concern was his own writing. To help support himself while writing, he took jobs reading meters, passing out handbills, delivering packages, and working in an unemployment office. He began publishing short stories in various small literary magazines, and his work was included in some anthologies, including the 1955 edition of Best American Short Stories; his first collection of stories, The Anatomy Lesson, and Other Stories, appeared in 1957. His writing began to be recognized by such awards as the Saxton and Guggenheim fellowships and a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Grant in 1967.

In his fiction, Connell depicts the loneliness and frustration of middle-class Americans struggling through lives devoid of meaning. His short stories reflect this theme, but his novels delineate even more sharply his sense of the emptiness of contemporary existence. Beginning with India Bridge of Mrs. Bridge, a repressed, mentally abused suburban housewife whose domineering husband has left her without a shred of self-esteem, Connell’s novels create a gallery of disconnected, desolate characters. Mrs. Bridge is perhaps the work that best represents Connell’s concerns, although Mr. Bridge, an in-depth portrayal of India...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Evan Shelby Connell, Jr., was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son and grandson of physicians. He attended Southwestern High School in Kansas City, and later Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Through his early college years, Connell intended to become a doctor; this ambition changed, however, after he left Dartmouth to serve in the United States armed forces during World War II. Leaving Dartmouth before he graduated, Connell joined the Navy, where he was assigned to flight school, becoming first a pilot and then, after completing his training, a flight instructor. During his time in the Navy, from 1943 through 1945, he saw no actual combat. When Connell completed his military service, he enrolled in the University of Kansas and finished his undergraduate education there with a degree in English. Further studies followed at Stanford University, Columbia University, and San Francisco City College (now San Francisco State University). In addition to enrolling in writing courses, Connell took courses in art, especially painting and sculpture.

Having embarked upon a literary career, Connell began publishing his short stories in various small and literary magazines. The quality of his work was recognized early, and writings soon appeared in anthologies. His work was chosen for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards in 1949 and again in 1951, and his works were published in The Best American Short Stories in 1955. His first collection...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Evan Shelby Connell, Jr., was born on August 17, 1924, in Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated from Southwest High School there in 1941. He attended Dartmouth College as a premedical student but left in 1943 to enter the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet, later noting that without World War II he might have followed further in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both doctors. Connell graduated from flight school in Pensacola in May, 1945, attended instructors’ training school in New Orleans, and spent the remainder of his service as a flight instructor at the Glenview Naval Air Station outside Chicago. His flight experience provided him much of the background for his second novel, The Patriot, just as his childhood in Kansas City contributed to the Bridge books.

After the war, Connell returned to school on the G.I. Bill, studying art and English at the University of Kansas, where he began writing fiction as a student of Ray B. West. Art has remained for him “an avocation, or second occupation,” and he has explained its place in his life in pragmatic terms, noting that he saw some chance of making a living as a writer, but none as a painter. Receiving his B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1947, Connell went on to study writing with Wallace Stegner at Stanford, with Helen Hull at Columbia University in 1948-1949, and with Walter Van Tilburg Clark at San Francisco State College. He “floated” in Paris and Barcelona for two years, writing short stories that eventually began appearing in commercial magazines, a development that Connell has credited in part to Elizabeth McKee, who remained his literary agent until her death in 1997.

For many years from the 1950’s onward, Connell lived in San Francisco, explaining that “it seems I’ve always needed a sense of landscape and topography.” He at times supported his writing with what he has called “stupid jobs,” working as a postal clerk and a meter reader, hauling ice, and interviewing unemployed workers for the California Department of Unemployment—the job he recalls as his worst and the one he gives to Earl Summerfield in The Diary of a Rapist. Connell now lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.