Joan Chase Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joan Chase grew up in Alabama and attended university in Maryland. She also lived in Illinois and Iowa, where she worked at the Ragdale Foundation as assistant director, 1980-1984, and later taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1988. Chase also taught at Princeton University in 1990 and afterward moved to Vermont.

In 1983, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia brought her a series of awards: Best Midwest Fiction Award from Friends of American Writers, Best Fiction in Midwest Award from Friends of Literature, Best Fiction in Middle States Award from Society of Midland Authors, and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award from PEN American Center. In 1984 she received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in Fiction from the University of Rochester. In 1987 she was given the Whiting Writers’ Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. Chase’s work has also been supported by the Illinois Arts Council, the Vermont Council on the Arts, the Yaddo Corporation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Chase’s major theme is the fractured family life. Her novels and short stories chronicle experiences in homes darkened by men, though dominated by women. She twice has given interviews, one to Connie Lauerman in the Chicago Tribune Book World, July 17, 1983, and the second with Contemporary Authors in February, 1990. They discuss her craft, issues such as her interest in poetry and art, her gender characterizations, and experiments with the plural narrative voice. Her style, as Margaret Atwood says when reviewing During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, suggests a kind of female Huck Finn story; that is, girls and women also react against family life, with interesting consequences.

Atwood describes Joan Chase’s fiction as a kind of “Norman Rockwell painting gone bad,” an appropriate image. Both During the Reign of the Queen of Persia and The Evening Wolves began as short stories, are about female bonding, and present Bildungsromane with pairs of sisters who narrate communally, an apt approach to themes of social relations, entrapment, and growth. In Chase’s writing, agency is important, but so is communion. Separation is valued, but so is connection.

Each novel demonstrates...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Atwood, Margaret. “Romantic Idealism, Barnyard Realism.” The New York Times Book Review, June 12, 1983, p. 9. Places During the Reign of the Queen of Persia in gender perspective and compares Chase with writers like Alice Munro and Anne Tyler.

Bauer, Douglas. “Bonneville Blue.” New York Times Book Review, August 18, 1991, p. 10. Picks out Chase’s themes and praises her richly allusive prose.

Conarroe, Joel. “The Dangerous Charm of the Widower.” New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1989, pp. 11-12. Sees The Evening Wolves as a Chekhovian drama about “tyranny of the human heart.”

Payant, Katherine B. “Female Friendship in the Contemporary Bildungsroman.” In Communication and Women’s Friendships, edited by Janet Doubler Ward and JoAnna Stephens Mink. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993. Female rites of passage are summarized.

Vasquez, Mary S. “Prisoners and Refugees: Language of Violence in The House of Bernarda Alba and During the Reign of the Queen of Persia.” In Women and Violence in Literature, edited by Katherine Anne Ackley. New York: Garland, 1990. Considers linguistic violence in Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia.