Reynolds Price Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Reynolds Price was born during the Great Depression in the small town of Macon on the North Carolina side of the Virginia-North Carolina border. His birth was difficult and almost killed both him and his mother, Elizabeth Rodwell Price. Price’s father, William Solomon Price, a salesman with a taste for liquor, vowed that if his wife’s life was spared, he would stop drinking. After a prolonged labor, Reynolds, the first of the Prices’ two children, was born. Will, whose twenty-seven-year marriage to Elizabeth was happy and passionate, struggled to keep his vow.

A second son, William, was not born until eight years later, so Reynolds was raised as an only child for nearly a decade, doted on by a gallery of aunts and uncles, most of whom appear in one form or another in his writing. Money was tight, and the Prices moved from town to town. They lost their house when Will fell short of an overdue fifty-dollar mortgage payment.

Reynolds, having few playmates and being brought up among adults with the penchant for storytelling common to people from small southern towns, depended upon his imagination for company. Besides being good storytellers, Price’s relatives were readers, so, following their examples, he developed an early enthusiasm for books. He was a good enough listener that he learned early the rhythms, cadences, vocabulary, and syntax of southern speech, which he was later to reproduce authentically in his writing.

The adolescent Price wrote poetry as well as some plays. Reynolds grew close to his mother’s sister, Ida Drake, who was forty-six when he was born. Price’s early school experiences were positive. Jane Alston (called Miss Jennie) and Crichton Thorne Davis, his seventh-grade and eighth-grade teachers at the John Graham School in Warrenton, were exceptional motivators who recognized the young Price’s potential. The family moved to Raleigh when Reynolds entered high school. There Phyllis Peacock, head of the English department at Needham-Broughton Senior High School, a demanding taskmistress, taught Reynolds how to write prose.

Price entered Duke University as an English major in 1951, beginning an association that continued throughout his professional life. When, at the invitation of Professor William Blackburn, Eudora Welty came to Duke University early in the 1950’s to work with undergraduates interested in creative writing and to comment on some of their work, Price’s submission rose above the rest. A decade later, Price was back at Duke, having completed a residence at Merton College, Oxford University, which he had attended as a Rhodes scholar and from which he received a bachelor of letters degree in 1958. A fledgling assistant professor of English, he...

(The entire section is 1117 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Reynolds Price is more than merely the regional author that many people consider him to be. He is regional in the sense that William Faulkner was regional, but his concerns are also as broad as Faulkner’s were. Fate plays a strong role in Price’s work, and this fate is connected to heredity. Free will enables people to make choices, but in exercising their free will, Price’s characters often make the same choices their parents made; therefore, the results are almost identical. Hereditary determinism is stronger in Price’s work than in that of almost any other contemporary American author.

Reynolds Price Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The first child of William Solomon Price and Elizabeth Rodwell Price, Edward Reynolds Price was born February 1, 1933, at the Rodwell family homestead in Macon, North Carolina. When the doctor told Will that neither his wife nor his child was likely to survive, Will made a pledge to God: If their lives were spared, he would never drink again. He kept this difficult promise, which marked the beginning of a deep bond between Reynolds and his parents. Young Reynolds heard this story many times—as he heard the other oral memories of his large extended family—and has said that these tales were his introduction to the power of narrative.

During the Depression, Will Price worked as an appliance salesman, moving his family through a succession of small North Carolina towns. Although a brother was born when Reynolds was eight, he was still essentially a solitary child, spending most of his free time reading, drawing, or playing alone in the woods. The family moved to Warrenton in 1944, where Reynolds met the farm children who served as prototypes for his early fiction. In 1947, Reynolds entered high school in Raleigh, where, during what he has called a miserable adolescence, he decided that writing would be his vocation.

In 1951, Price entered Duke University as an Angier Duke Scholar and studied English literature and history. Although he wrote relatively little fiction as an undergraduate, his story “Michael Egerton” was praised by visiting...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born on February 1, 1933, in the rural North Carolina town of Macon, the son of William Solomon Price and Elizabeth Rodwell Price, Edward Reynolds Price was a child of the Great Depression. Although, because of the closeness of his family structure, his welfare was not seriously threatened by the social dislocations around him, the boy was aware of them and developed what his biographer Constance Rooke calls Dickensian terrors of abandonment and destitution. His parents, hard-pressed economically, lost their house when they could not raise a fifty-dollar mortgage payment.

Upon graduation from Needham-Broughten High School in Raleigh, where his English teacher, Phyllis Peacock, appreciated his ability and took a particular interest in him, Price became an English major at Duke University in 1951. There he came under the influence of William Blackburn, a legendary teacher of creative writing who numbered among his former students such luminaries as William Styron, Anne Tyler, Max Hyman, and Fred Chappell. Through Blackburn, Price metEudora Welty, who respected his work and ten years later was instrumental in helping to get Price’s first book, A Long and Happy Life, published.

Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree from Duke, Price attended Merton College, University of Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar. He received a bachelor of letters degree from Oxford in 1958 and returned to Duke University in that year as an assistant professor of English. Except for brief intervals, Price continued to teach there for the rest of his career. Since 1977, he has held the position of James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke, where he has regularly taught courses in creative writing and on the poetry of John Milton.

Price, who never married, burst on the literary scene auspiciously when Harper’s magazine devoted the whole of its April, 1962, issue to printing A Long and Happy Life, which was being released in hardcover at about the same time. The critical reception of this first novel was enthusiastic and brought Price the prestigious Faulkner Foundation Award for a first novel.

In 1963, Price visited England, and in the same year a...

(The entire section is 897 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Born into the Depression-era South, Reynolds Price lived in poverty during his early childhood. The son of an alcoholic father and an only child until age eight, Price saw himself as someone on whom his parents leaned. His fiction contains numerous characters who make demands on those who are not sure that they can bear the needy ones’ weight. Each of his major novels represents an attempt to mediate the tension between the demands of the community and the needs of the self, which is a central theme of Southern literature. In his portrayal of the artist as bisexual in The Source of Light, Price is particularly concerned with the self’s need for solitude. This means escaping from the pressures of conforming to a...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born in 1933 in Macon, North Carolina, Edward Reynolds Price attended the state’s public schools before enrolling in Duke University in 1951. While a student, he published some work in the student literary magazine, Archive, and for a time served as the magazine’s editor. He showed one of his short stories, “Michael Egerton,” to Eudora Welty when she was visiting Duke. Welty shared it with her publisher, who later published Price’s first novel, A Long and Happy Life. The cover of the book bears endorsements from Welty and Harper Lee. Price graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Duke in 1955. He spent the next three years at Merton College in Oxford, on a Rhodes scholarship. These years are...

(The entire section is 359 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

When William Blackburn in the early 1950’s arranged Eudora Welty’s visit to Duke University to give a reading and comment on the work of undergraduates interested in creative writing, Edward Reynolds Price’s sample stood out among those of the others she saw. (A decade later, Price was back at Duke, after completing a residence at Merton College, Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar and from which he received a bachelor of letters degree in 1958.) Welty not only gave Price perceptive critiques of his early writing but also helped him to place A Long and Happy Life, which was published in 1962. It was through her interest and intervention that Harper’s magazine agreed to publish his first novel in...

(The entire section is 771 words.)

Reynolds Price Biography

(Novels for Students)

Reynolds Price was born on February 1, 1933, in Macon, North Carolina. His father, William, was a traveling salesman; his mother, Elizabeth,...

(The entire section is 352 words.)