John Gardner was born John Champlin Gardner, Jr., on July 21, 1933, in the western New York community of Batavia, the setting of The Resurrection, The Sunlight Dialogues, and a number of short stories. Strongly influenced by his father, a farmer and lay preacher, and his mother, an English teacher, Gardner, nicknamed Bud (Welsh for poet), began writing stories when he was eight years old and reading his work aloud to the family in the evening. The death of his younger brother, Gilbert, in a farm accident on April 4, 1945, seems to have been the most formative event in Gardner’s life. He felt responsible for his brother’s death, which he fictionalized in the story “Redemption” (1977), and as a result became deeply introspective. His mother suggested that Gilbert’s death may also account for her son’s remarkable energy and productivity, as if he wished to live both his own life and his brother’s.
During his high school years, Gardner commuted to the Eastman School of Music in nearby Rochester, where he took French horn lessons. He attended DePauw University for two years, majoring in chemistry, and then, following his marriage to Joan Patterson, a cousin, on June 6, 1953, transferred to Washington University. At Washington, under the tutelage of Jarvis Thurston, he began writing Nickel Mountain. From 1955 to 1958 Gardner attended the University of Iowa; at first he studied at the Writers Workshop (his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation were both creative rather...
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