Price, Reynolds 1933-
(Full name Edward Reynolds Price) American short story writer, novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, memoirist, translator, and critic.
Price is considered among the most accomplished contemporary authors of the American South. His short stories and novels, which are frequently set in the rural regions of his native North Carolina, are complex character studies that address such universal themes as the consequences of familial and sexual love, the need for independence, the effect of the past upon the present, and the mystique of place. Although some consider Price's use of symbolism and irony to be overwrought, many critics laud his unsentimental characterizations and acute depictions of regional traditions. While Price disclaims comparisons made between his work and that of most other Southern writers, particularly William Faulkner's, Price acknowledges Eudora Welty's influence on his career. Critics frequently cite similarities to the work of Welty and Flannery O'Connor in the spiritual and mythic subtext underlying Price's deceptively simple regional stories.
The son of a traveling salesman, Price was born in Macon, North Carolina. During his undergraduate years at Duke University, he composed his first short story, "Michael Egerton," which received high praise from Eudora Welty, whom Price respected highly. After graduating from Duke University, Price attended Merton College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar. While residing in England, Price composed his first novel, A Long and Happy Life and several of the short stories that would comprise his first collection, The Names and Faces of Heroes. After three years at Oxford, Price returned to North Carolina. He took a position as teacher and writerin-residence at Duke University. In 1984, Price's life quickly changed when he was diagnosed with spinal cancer. For two years he battled the disease and for several months he did not write. Fearing that he would not live to see the publication of his work-in-progress Kate Vaiden, Price returned to the novel while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Price's illness left him confined to a wheelchair. Instead of crippling his artistry, this crisis has resulted in a prolific burst of poetry, drama, fiction, and autobiography. Price currently resides in Durham, North Carolina, and continues to teach at Duke University.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Price acknowledges Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Welty as major influences during the formative years of his writing and traces the roots of his metaphoric style to Milton and the Bible. Throughout his literary career, Price has explored manifestations of familial and sexual love as they affect a character's simultaneous desires for independence and fulfillment, as well as the imperfect communication among loved ones that leads to isolation and occasionally miraculous moments of understanding. These themes are played out in stories where the character's relationships span differences in age, class, race, and personality. The stories in his first collection, The Names and Faces of Heroes, reflect these signature issues, incorporating Price's native Southern setting and his autobiographical impulse. Critics praise Price's deft portrayal of male relationships and male adolescence in stories such as "The Names and Faces of Heroes," "Michael Egerton," and "Troubled Sleep." Permanent Errors, Price's second short fiction collection, differs in subject matter from the earlier fiction, as it focuses on academic and intellectual protagonists who forsake emotional involvement to pursue professional ambitions. The stories, in Price's words, attempt "to isolate in a number of lives the center error of act, will, inderstanding which, once made, has been permanent, incurable, but whose diagnosis and palliation are the hopes of continuance." This volume includes such frequently anthologized pieces as "Waiting at Dachau" and "The Happiness of Others."
Early in his career Price was lauded for the optimism of his fiction in The Names and Faces of Heroes and the novel A Long and Happy Life which won the William Faulkner Award. With the appearance of Permanent Errors, critics noted a more somber tone. This collection depicts characters whose lives are shaped by a destiny that they can only partially control. Both Price's writing style and his role as Southern writer have been recurring issues among critics. Because of the poetic and metaphoric quality of his fiction, some critics have questioned his realism and characterization of southern culture. Others have defended his prose style as a method for presenting a multi-dimensional world that encompasses the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychic realities of being human. Another recurring issue among critics is the extent to which Price's work is like that of William Faulkner's. Some make the comparison favorably, while others consider Price's work a less-successful imitation of the renowned Southern writer's work. Price comments on this frequent comparison thusly: "All Southern writers who have written in the last twenty years have had to bear the burden of being called Faulknerian. But the truth, if anyone is interested, is this, certainly and simply: they write about the South, which is their home as well as Faulkner's."