Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Wright Morris has had a lengthy, productive career as an American novelist. Beginning with My Uncle Dudley (1942), he has shown the often-comic struggle of Americans, mostly Midwesterners and Californians, to understand the complexities of a bewildering, ever-changing, hostile world. Among the many awards Morris’ fiction has received are the National Book Award, for The Field of Vision (1956), and the American Book Award, for Plains Song: For Female Voices (1980). Morris has also written an extensive amount of nonfiction, including autobiography and essays about literature, culture, and society. His most unusual books are his “photo-texts,” works combining short passages of impressionistic prose with photographs.

Morris, as he recounts in A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life (1985), became seriously interested in photography in the mid-1930’s, at the same time he began trying to write fiction. He writes in the preface to the revised edition of The Inhabitants that he wanted to use his camera to salvage what he valued of a rapidly disappearing America. His original plan was to combine words and pictures in a series of five books dealing with the movement of American life from the farm to the small town to the city. The first of these, as he explains in Photographs and Words (1982), was to be “a survey of the state of the union in terms of its threatened symbols.”

In the fall of 1940, Morris set out to photograph as much of the United States as he could with his limited funds. He experienced numerous adventures on his journey, including being arrested as a vagrant and possible spy in Greenville, South Carolina, and being shot at on a farm in Pike...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Crump, G. B. The Novels of Wright Morris: A Critical Interpretation, 1978.

Howard, Leon. Wright Morris, 1968.

Knoll, Robert E., ed. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses, 1977.

Madden, David. Wright Morris, 1964.

Wydeven, Joseph J. “Consciousness Refracted: Photography and the Imagination in the Works of Wright Morris,” in Midamerica. VIII (1981), pp. 92-114.

Wydeven, Joseph J. “Images and Icons: The Fiction and Photography of Wright Morris.” In Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature, 1985. Edited by Barbara Howard Meldrum.

Wydeven, Joseph J. “Photography and Privacy: The Protests of Wright Morris and James Agee,” in Midwest Quarterly. XXIII (Autumn, 1981), pp. 103-115.