James Alan McPherson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Alan McPherson (muhk-FURS-uhn) is one of the most accomplished American writers of short fiction to have achieved prominence in the years immediately following the Civil Rights era. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, on September 16, 1943, the son of James Allen and Mable (Smalls) McPherson. His father was an electrician; his mother, a domestic in a white household. Although the Savannah of McPherson’s childhood and youth remained segregated, it was a multicultural city that encouraged him, he has said, to develop a conception of human identity that transcended racial categories.

McPherson earned a B.A. from Morris Brown College in 1965. Upon graduating, he was recruited by Harvard Law School, where he received his LL.B. degree in 1968. While at Harvard, he sold his first two short stories to The Atlantic; the first to be published, “Gold Coast,” was honored as the best work of fiction to appear in that magazine in 1968. On the strength of that story and other manuscripts soon to be published in his first book, The Atlantic awarded McPherson a creative writing grant in 1969. That same year he began a long-term relationship with the journal as a contributing editor, and he also completed the M.F.A. program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Hue and Cry, McPherson’s first collection of short fiction, also appeared in 1969. The volume contains ten stories, many of them rather grim in tone and most of them written during the summer of 1968. The characters McPherson portrayed were often lonely, isolated, confused, even defeated—the victims of both social forces and personal failings. Building upon his own work experiences as a grocery clerk, dining-car waiter, janitor, and law student, McPherson created stories of a stark, compelling realism. The haunting refrain of the title story—“But if this is all there is, what is left of life and why are we alive?”—sounded one of the volume’s principal notes. As the book’s title and epigraph suggest, Hue and Cry was an implicit protest against the conditions it detailed. McPherson’s compassion for his characters, and their own courage and skill amid adversity, evoked sympathy from the reader, a recognition that life should be different.

The widespread praise accorded Hue and Cry was surpassed by the even...

(The entire section is 969 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

James Alan McPherson earned degrees from Morris Brown College (B.A., 1965), Harvard Law School (LL.B., 1968), and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (M.F.A., 1971). He has taught at the University of Iowa, the University of California, Harvard University, Morgan State University, and the University of Virginia. Besides being a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, he held jobs ranging from stock clerk to newspaper reporter. In the early 1980’s, McPherson began teaching fiction writing in the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. After writing Elbow Room, McPherson primarily focused on nonfiction essays that center on the need for African Americans to help define the cultural realities of contemporary American life. His first book in twenty years, Crabcakes (1998), focuses on his ultimate understanding of what makes people human.


(Short Stories for Students)

James Alan Mcpherson Published by Gale Cengage

James Alan Mcpherson was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1943, and raised there. His background was lower-middle class, and he grew up at a...

(The entire section is 306 words.)