Gilbert Sorrentino Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gilbert Sorrentino was born in Brooklyn in 1929 to a Sicilian-born father and a third-generation Irish mother. He was raised in Roman Catholic milieus and blue-collar neighborhoods, which form the setting for two of his novels. When he was eighteen years old, he moved across the river to investigate the cultural centers of Manhattan and enrolled in Brooklyn College, but a stint in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1951 interrupted his education. He decided to become a writer after two years in the Army and started a novel that was eventually aborted. He returned to Brooklyn College in 1955 and founded the magazine Neon with, among others, Hubert Selby, Jr., with whom he formed a lifelong friendship based partly on their common background.

The Darkness Surrounds Us, his first book of poetry, appeared in 1960 and was followed by another collection, Black and White, in 1964. The following year, Sorrentino started what was to become a long and distinguished teaching career with a course at Columbia University, and he published his first novel, The Sky Changes, in 1966. He worked at Grove Press until 1970 as an assistant, then an editor; his first editing assignment was Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). This was followed by teaching stints at the Aspen Writers’ Workshop, Sarah Lawrence College, and the New School for Social Research. In 1979 he was appointed Edwin S. Quain Professor of Literature at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, and in 1982 he joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he taught creative writing until his retirement in 1999.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gilbert Sorrentino (saw-rehn-TEE-noh) was a central figure in the literary avant-garde of the 1960’s and 1970’s, which was centered in New York but had artistic ties to other communities in the United States. His work displays fictional devices and techniques that are now associated with postmodernism. The child of a Sicilian-born father and a third-generation Irish mother, he grew up among Roman Catholics in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. Sorrentino used this milieu, which he considered deadening, in his second novel, Steelwork. A precocious boy, he began his migratory travels by moving across the river to the cultural centers of Manhattan when he was eighteen.

In 1950 Sorrentino enrolled in Brooklyn College and began to write fiction, but he attended classes only one year before his education was interrupted by his being drafted into the Army Medical Corps. When he was released in 1953, he attempted to write a novel that was unsuccessful, then returned to Brooklyn College in 1955. While there, he founded a magazine, Neon, with some of his friends. From 1956 to 1960 Sorrentino edited the magazine and published the works of many prominent writers, including William Carlos Williams, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Hubert Selby, Jr., and Joel Oppenheimer. Although its readership was small, Sorrentino believed that an audience of two hundred was sufficient because in the late 1950’s the New York community of poets and writers was so close. With novelist James Joyce and poet William Carlos Wiilliams, Sorrentino shared faith in the...

(The entire section is 641 words.)