James Alan McPherson Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

With Miller Williams, James Alan McPherson has edited and contributed essays and a short story to a volume of essays, stories, poems, and pictures entitled Railroad: Trains and Train People in American Culture (1976). After 1969, McPherson also contributed several essays to The Atlantic Monthly and to Reader’s Digest. Crabcakes (1998), a volume of meditations on many topics, was McPherson’s first book after the short-story collection Elbow Room. Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men (1998), edited by McPherson and DeWitt Henry, is a collection of essays on the father-daughter bond.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Even though James Alan McPherson has not published many collections of short fiction, his adroit characterizations and his strong sense of place have attracted many readers and influenced a number of writers. His work has been anthologized and has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, The Harvard Advocate, Reader’s Digest, The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Ploughshares. His association with the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and his teaching of courses in fiction writing have given him a forum from which he influences beginning writers across the United States. Though earlier critics noted similarities between McPherson and other African American writers such as James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, critical attention was later placed on his unique use of language and his ability to create a mythical dimension to his stories. Because of this, his fiction has begun to be examined in a much wider context than previously.

The story “Gold Coast” won the prize for fiction awarded by The Atlantic Monthly in 1968. McPherson won the literature award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970, and he was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1972. Elbow Room won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was nominated for the National Book Award. In 1981, his writing achievements earned him a MacArthur Fellowship.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beavers, Herman. “I Yam What You Is and You Is What I Yam: Rhetorical Invisibility in James Alan McPherson’s ‘The Story of a Dead Man.’” Callaloo 9 (1986): 565-577. Beavers discusses the linguistic and rhetorical characteristics of McPherson’s dialogue and how language shapes perceptions, specifically in “The Story of a Dead Man.”

Beavers, Herman. Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. Provides criticism and interpretation of Gaines’s and McPherson’s works of fiction.

Cox, Joseph T. “James Alan McPherson.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. A brief introduction to McPherson’s art, including a short biographical sketch, a summary and critique of the criticism of his work, and a short discussion of his short-story themes of intolerance and general absence of grace and love in modern society.

Laughlin, Rosemary M. “Attention, American Folklore: Doc Craft Comes Marching In.” Studies in American Fiction 1 (1973): 221-227. Laughlin discusses McPherson’s use of myth and folklore, as well as his ability to create new kinds of folklore in the pages of his story based on his aesthetic use...

(The entire section is 549 words.)