Although early in his career George Garrett was best known as a poet, he later gained recognition as an important contemporary novelist as well. He wrote several plays and screenplays, and his The Young Lovers (1964) has become a cult favorite. Garrett has received particular acclaim for his historical novels, Death of the Fox (1971) and The Succession (1983), both set in Elizabethan England. Garrett also wrote a biography and critical studies and wrote, edited, and contributed to many books and journals on film, writing, and literary criticism. In 1998, Days of Our Lives Lie in Fragments: New and Old Poems, 1957-1997, a collection of his poems, was published.
George Garrett was awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Ford Foundation grant, among many other honors. Through his teaching, editing, and writing, Garrett influenced contemporary American letters directly and significantly. Garrett received the T. S. Eliot Award for creative writing from the Ingersoll Foundation (1989), the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction (1991), and the Hollins College Medal (1992). In 1994, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the South.
In addition to his novels, George Garrett published several volumes of poems and collections of short stories. He also wrote plays, screenplays, and a biography of James Jones, and he edited or coedited many books about literature.
George Garrett served as poetry editor of the Transatlantic Review, coeditor of The Hollins Critic, and contributing editor to Contempora and Film Journal. He received a fellowship in poetry from the Sewanee Review, the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Ford Foundation grant, a Guggenheim grant, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an award in literature from the Academy and Institute for the Arts. In 2005, the Fellowship of Southern Writers presented Garrett with the Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement.
During his acclaimed writing and teaching careers, George Garrett enjoyed a deserved reputation as the preeminent southern man of letters. In addition to publishing eight volumes of poetry, Garrett wrote a highly celebrated trilogy of novels on Queen Elizabeth and her times (Death of the Fox, 1971; The Succession: A Novel of Elizabeth and James, 1983; Entered from the Sun, 1990), and critics highly praised his other novels, which range from an exploration of the quirky nature of religion in the South (Do, Lord, Remember Me, 1965) to the strange world of Florida politics (The Finished Man, 1959). Garrett published three plays, including Sir Slob and the Princess: A Play for Children (pb. 1962), and ten collections of short fiction. A prolific writer, he produced biographies on the novelist James Jones and on the writer Mary Lee Settle and several volumes of literary criticism that include his reflections on publishing in the United States and the state of southern literature in his time. Like William Faulkner before him, Garrett wrote Hollywood screenplays (The Young Lovers, 1964; The Playground, 1965; and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, 1966, with R. H. W. Dillard and John Rodenbeck) and numerous book reviews and introductions to the works of other writers.
When he died in 2008, George Garrett left behind a remarkable legacy as the last great southern man of letters. At least two writing organizations honored his work by establishing awards in his name during his lifetime. Texas Review Press, which published To Come up Grinning: A Tribute to George Garrett in 1989, twice annually grants the George Garrett Award for the Short Story and the Novel. The Associated Writing Programs, the preeminent organization for creative writing programs in the United States, rewards outstanding contributions to the community of literature with its George Garrett Community Service Award in Literature. Beginning early in his own career, Garrett began receiving recognition and awards for his fiction, poetry, and drama. In 1958, he received both the Sewanee Review Fellowship and the American Academy in Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which allowed him to concentrate on his writing. He won a Ford Grant for Drama in 1960. Garrett received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1967 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974. In 1989, he was awarded the Ingersoll Foundation’s T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing, which recognized him as one of the most inventive and artistic writers of his generation. One year later Garrett received the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction. Garrett received the Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry in 1999. Recognizing one of its most prominent citizens, the State Library of Virginia awarded Garrett its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and in 2005, the Fellowship of Southern Writers honored Garrett with its Cleanth Brooks Medal of Lifetime Achievement. In 2006, Garrett received both the Thomas Wolfe Prize and the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize.
Betts, Richard. “‘To Dream of Kings’: George Garrett’s The Succession.” The Mississippi Quarterly 45 (Winter, 1991): 53. Argues that Garrett’s Elizabethan fiction has been unjustly overlooked by critics.
Dillard, R. H. W. Understanding George Garrett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. The first major critical work on Garrett. Contains individual chapters on The Finished Man, Which Ones Are the Enemy?, Do, Lord, Remember Me, the two historical novels, Poison Pen, as well as a chapter on the poems and short stories. Supplemented by a helpful bibliography.
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