Pam Houston Biography

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Described by many critics as “a modern Annie Oakley,” Pam Houston was born in New Jersey but spent much of her childhood in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The only child of an actress and unsuccessful businessman, her childhood was filled with parental alcoholism and physical abuse and unmet expectations. Her father wanted her to become a tennis star; her mother wanted her to be thin and perfectly made-up. Houston wanted to be neither.

When Houston was two and a half years old, her baby-sitter encouraged her to learn to read and write. This became a means of escape from a childhood often fraught with great danger, including sixteen car accidents (once with each of her parents) in as many years of age. Houston graduated second in her class with a degree in English from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. In 1992 she married (and later divorced) a South African safari guide, Mike Elkington. Later, she received a Ph.D. from the University of Utah.

Because she spent much of her childhood afraid for her personal safety, Houston claims her attraction to dangerous white-water rafting and emotionally withdrawn cowboy types was a response to feelings of fear and lack of control as a child and a way of returning to an unfortunate but familiar lifestyle. Her work as a hunting and rafting guide in the American West and Alaska forms the basis for most of her literary work.


(Short Stories for Students)

When Pam Houston published her first collection of stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness, in 1992, she established herself as a promising young American fiction writer and a model for women who aspired to a life of outdoor adventure. Houston drew on her experiences as river guide, rafter, rock climber, skier, and extreme backpacker for the stories, and critics favorably compared her to writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Richard Ford, who similarly extol the joys of confronting the natural world head-on. Born in 1962 in New Jersey, the only child of a businessman and an actress, Houston grew up practicing to be a world-class tennis player, largely to please her father. After winning a tournament at thirteen, she gave up the sport for good. Houston pursued a life of adventure in earnest after graduating from Denison University in Ohio, bicycling through Canada and down to Colorado. After a series of odd jobs such as bartending, working on road crews, teaching skiing, etc., Houston entered the doctoral program in creative writing at the University of Utah. She left six months short of completing her degree.

(The entire section is 622 words.)