John Hawkes

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In addition to his novels, John Hawkes (hawks) published a collection of four plays (The Innocent Party: Four Short Plays, 1966), some poetry (Fiasco Hall, 1943—privately printed), volumes of short fiction, and many fragments taken from his longer works and published separately, often while still in progress.

Hawkes gave a number of highly informative interviews during his career, discussing not only past works but also those in progress. Notable conversations may be found in Anthony C. Santore’s and Michael Pocalykov’s A John Hawkes Symposium: Design and Debris (1977). Hawkes also conducted important dialogues with Thomas LeClair (The New Republic, November 10, 1979) and with John Barth (The New York Times Book Review, April 1, 1979).


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John Hawkes’s lack of a wide readership has always been counterbalanced by a literate and highly vocal following among readers who are professionally interested in contemporary fiction. In fact, perhaps his most accessible and widely read work, The Blood Oranges, winner of Le Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (France, 1973), is a novel primarily read by college students and professors. Although he belongs to no recognizable school of fiction, many think Hawkes is “feasibly our best writer” of the late twentieth century, as the novelist Thomas McGuane put it. A ruthless poeticizer of fictional terror and aesthetic shock, Hawkes is both a satirist in the tradition of Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, and Nathanael West and an explorer of the interior life in the tradition of Joseph Conrad. His achievement was recognized in 1986 with the awarding of the Prix Medicis Étranger (Paris).


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Berry, Eliot. A Poetry of Force and Darkness: The Fiction of John Hawkes. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1979. Discusses the imaginative art of Hawkes’s writing in the context of the romantic novel, likening it to poetry with its rich language and depth. Compares Hawkes to both William Faulkner and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modern American Novel. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1983. Bradbury places Hawkes in the genre of postmodernism, citing him as a powerfully compelling writer of the “imaginative grotesque” who draws on the tradition of the American Gothic. Discusses his novels up to and including The Passion Artist, noting his increased clarity of technique and greater complexity.

Busch, Frederick. Hawkes: A Guide to His Fictions. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1973. Valuable when examining the intricacies of the plots in Hawkes’s fiction, but less so when discussing stylistic and thematic concerns. Analyzes image patterns in his novels through The Blood Oranges, with a helpful discussion on his use of animal imagery.

Greiner, Donald J. Comic Terror: The Novels of John Hawkes. Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1978. Greiner cites Hawkes as one of the few “truly gifted writers of the so-called black humor movement.” Discusses his later works and shows how they have modified earlier works. Includes a checklist of primary and secondary sources. An important contribution to Hawkes criticism.

Kuehl, John. John Hawkes and the Craft of Conflict. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1975. Treats the relationship between Hawkes’s central themes and his craft, simultaneously tracing the evolution of both. Explores the Eros/Thanatos conflict in his work and is therefore useful to the Hawkes specialist. Also includes an interview with Hawkes.

O’Donnell, Patrick. John Hawkes. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Provides thorough readings of his works and some biographical information of interest. The purpose of this study is to explain to general readers the difficulties of Hawkes’s fiction. Includes a useful selected bibliography.

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Critical Essays