Josephine Humphreys Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Josephine Humphreys (HUHM-freez) is a major southern fiction writer who is often ranked with Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. She has become known for dealing primarily with family relationships in a changing society. Her own family was a prominent one, connected for generations with Charleston, South Carolina, which is her home and the setting of her fiction. Her great-great grandfather was the Confederate secretary of the treasury. Humphreys and her two sisters grew up on the “peninsula,” the small historic area of Charleston. Their mother, in particular, emphasized the importance of tradition, but the girls had an enlightened upbringing and were raised to believe that women could do anything they wished. When Josephine was four years old, her parents predicted that she would be the writer of the family, and she was also encouraged by her grandmother Neta. In her essay “My Invisible Self,” which appeared in A World Unsuspected: Portraits of Southern Childhood, Humphreys recalls that when she was thirteen, her grandmother Neta asked her to write some stories for her. This was the moment when Humphreys realized that she was indeed a writer. Two decades elapsed, however, before she made a full commitment to her art.

Humphreys attended Duke University, where she studied creative writing with William Blackburn and Reynolds Price. After graduating in 1967 as a Phi Beta Kappa, she enrolled in a broad graduate program in English literature at Yale University. She never felt at home in New Haven, however, and in 1968, after receiving her M.A., she returned to the South.

For her doctoral studies Humphreys chose the University of Texas at Austin, in part because members of her family had a Texas background, but, even more important, because a classmate from Duke, Thomas A. Hutcheson, was in law school there. Humphreys and Hutcheson were married on November 30, 1968. Two years later the couple moved to Charleston. There Hutcheson practiced law, while Humphreys taught at Baptist College and produced two sons, who to her amazement became the delight of her...

(The entire section is 854 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Graybill, Mark S. “Reconstructing/Deconstructing Genre and Gender: Postmodern Identity in Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country and Josephine Humphreys’s Rich in Love.” Critique 43, no. 3 (2002): 239-259. Analyzes ways in which Humphreys and Mason appropriate traditional forms for nontraditional purposes.

Millichap, Joseph. “Josephine Humphreys.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. A comprehensive study of the author.

The Mississippi Quarterly 47 (Spring, 1994). A special section on Humphreys contains a number of essays.

O’Gorman, Farrell. “Languages of Mystery: Walker Percy’s Legacy in Contemporary Southern Fiction.” Southern Literary Journal 34, no. 2 (2002): 97-119. Views Humphreys as an heir to Percy’s literary legacy.

Walker, Elinor Ann. “Cold Parody and Subtle Historian: Reading Walker Percy’s Legacy in Josephine Humphreys’ The Fireman’s Fair.” Southern Literary Journal 31, no. 1 (1998): 51-69. Focuses on Humphreys’ literary inheritance from Percy, especially in her depiction of male characters.

Walker, Elinor Ann. “‘Go with What Is Most Terrifying’: Reinventing Domestic Space in Josephine Humphreys’s Dreams of Sleep.” Studies in Literary Imagination 27, no. 2 (1994): 87-104. Argues that in her first novel, Humphreys depicts the fragmentation of Southern society as an opportunity for the redefinition of the self.