John Knowles, American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, was born September 16, 1926, in Fairmont, West Virginia, the son of the vice president of a major coal company. In 1945 Knowles completed his high school education at Phillips Exeter Academy, a private boys’ school in New Hampshire, and then went to Yale University, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1949. While at the university, he served as editor of the Yale Daily News, and several of his early stories were published in student magazines. From 1950 to 1952, Knowles was a reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. He then turned to freelance writing for several years, then served as an associate editor of Holiday magazine from 1957 to 1960.
During this ten-year period Knowles was already writing short sketches of what would later be the subject matter of his first novel; he detailed the struggles of adolescent boys striving to discover their mature selves within the restrictive environment of a boarding school. His short story “A Turn With the Sun,” written in 1949 when he was twenty-three years old, details the accidental death by drowning of a prep school boy scorned by his classmates. This was followed by “Phineas,” written in 1953 and published in May, 1956, by Cosmopolitan magazine, an early rendering of what would later be reworked as the first four chapters of A Separate Peace (1959). In this short tale, Knowles created the character of Phineas as “the essence of careless peace,” a...
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