Richard Bausch Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Richard Carl Bausch (bawsh) ranks high among the American fiction writers whose works began appearing late in the twentieth century. Bausch was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, to Robert Carl and Helen Simmons Bausch. His identical twin brother, Robert, also became a novelist. Although Richard Bausch often writes about unhappy families, he admits that his own large family, consisting of his parents and their six red-haired children, was a harmonious one. The children were raised as devout Catholics. When Richard was three, the family moved to Washington, D.C. Soon afterward, they moved to suburban Maryland and later to Virginia. As an adult, Bausch would make his home in the Washington, D.C., area.

Although he always liked to read, Richard did not at first consider becoming a writer; it was Robert who started writing in childhood. After his high school grades made it unlikely that he could become a priest, Richard became a singer-songwriter and even tried his luck as a standup comic. In 1965 the twins enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where they taught survival skills to airmen on their way to Vietnam. After his discharge in 1969, Richard Bausch toured with a rock band. On May 3 he married Karen Miller, a photographer. They would have five children.

By the time of his marriage, Bausch was thinking seriously about becoming a writer. He went first to Northern Virginia Community College, then to George Mason University. After graduating in 1974, Bausch took his wife and new baby to Iowa City, Iowa, where he had been accepted by the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After receiving his M.F.A. in 1975, he returned to George Mason as a temporary instructor. Two years at Northern Virginia Community College followed, and then he went back to George Mason, where in 1980 he became a full professor and was awarded the Heritage Chair of Creative Writing.

Bausch is praised by reviewers for his psychological insight, his mastery of traditional structure, and his lucid prose, and he has had considerable popular success as well as critical recognition. His first novel, Real Presence, was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection. Two of his books have been nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award, the novel Take Me Back in 1982 and the collection Spirits, and Other Stories in 1988. Bausch received the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Best Writer’s Award in 1992, and the following year the Academy Award in Literature was presented to him by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Although Bausch has friends throughout the writing community, he cannot be classified as a member of any school. Like the contemporary fiction writers Tobias Wolff, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Raymond Carver, who are termed “dirty realists,” Bausch writes realistically about people whose lives seem hopeless. However, his style is simpler, and his characters are more likely to be middle-class people than members of society’s underclass. Like other Catholic writers, Bausch presents the world as a moral battlefield; however, his stories contain almost no references to ritual or theology. On the basis of his lifelong residence in the South, Bausch was elected to the Fellowship of Southern Writers, but he does not consider himself a southern writer, arguing that his works do not reflect a preoccupation with place, race, and heritage.

Bausch’s works most resemble those of one of the authors he most admires, the nineteenth century Russian short-story writer Anton Chekhov. Like him, Bausch writes about ordinary people, caught at a moment of crisis; the action in his works is internal; and his narratives rarely build toward a resolution. Bausch also resembles Chekhov in his spare use of language; both writers suggest much more than they state. Bausch’s greatest achievement, however, may be simply that he captures so accurately the frustrations, the failures, and the occasional small moral victories of everyday life.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Richard Carl Bausch was born April 18, 1945, in Fort Benning, Georgia, and grew up in rural Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. After high school, he worked as a rock singer, songwriter, and comedian. From 1966 to 1969, he was a survival instructor in the United States Air Force. In 1969, he married Karen Miller, a photographer, and started a family. When he was twenty-five, Bausch entered George Mason University; he received his B.A. in 1974. With his wife and a new baby, he moved to Iowa, where he enrolled in the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and in 1975 was awarded an M.F.A. When his works did not sell, Bausch began looking for a job. First he took a temporary position at George Mason University, then taught for two years at Northern Virginia Community College. Finally, he returned to George Mason, where he eventually became a full professor of English and the holder of the Heritage Chair of Creative Writing. Bausch has also been a visiting professor at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville and at Wesleyan University.