Richard Stern has written numerous volumes of prose. His novels have received wide critical acclaim from reviewers, including Saul Bellow, Joan Didion, and Bernard Malamud, yet none has been widely read, and few have received attention from professional literary critics. His first novel, Golk (1960), was hailed as one of the best fictive accounts of the early days of television and the ways in which it intrudes into the lives of people who work in the medium and those who watch it. He has received numerous awards for his work, including a Longwood Award (1960), a Friends of Literature Award (1963), a Rockefeller Foundation grant (1965), an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters grant (1968), a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1969), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1973-1974), a Carl Sandburg Award from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library (1979), an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal (1985), and a Heartland Award for best work of nonfiction (1995). In 1965, his novel Stitch was selected as an American Library Association book of the year, and in 1989 his Noble Rot was named the Chicago Sun-Times book of the year.
Other literary forms
In addition to his novels, Richard G. Stern has published several well-received collections of short fiction, including Teeth, Dying, and Other Matters (1964), Noble Rot: Stories, 1949-1988 (1989), and Almonds to Zhoof: Collected Stories (2005). He has also published miscellanies that comprise essays, reviews, reflections, journal excerpts, interviews, and even a bit of poetry; these works include The Books in Fred Hampton’s Apartment (1973) and What Is What Was (2002). He published a memoir, A Sistermony, in 1995, and he has also written plays and has served as editor on the anthologies American Poetry of the Fifties (1967) and Honey and Wax: The Powers and Pleasures of Narrative (1966), further testimony to his wide range of abilities and interests.
Richard G. Stern’s fiction has been compared to that of Saul Bellow by a number of critics. There are a number of similarities between the two writers, but the differences are, perhaps, more important. Stern does use literary and historical allusions and analogies in the manner of Bellow, but he is not a novelist of ideas as Bellow decidedly is. Stern, in contrast to Bellow, continues to exploit the resources of the traditional novel. His interest is more in character and theme than in the dialectic of ideas. This traditional stance may have limited Stern’s audience and his recognition as a writer. He has, however, been the recipient of some prestigious awards. He received the Longwood Foundation Award in 1960, the Fiction Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1968, the Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction in 1979, the Award of Merit for the Novel in 1985, and the Heartland Award for nonfiction for his memoir, A Sistermony. He has been both a Rockefeller and a Guggenheim fellow.
The major complaint about Stern’s novels is that they are too consciously allusive or mythical; they lack the confessional note and the excess of feeling so characteristic of much contemporary fiction. Marcus Klein is helpful, however, in revealing what Stern’s fiction does contain: “In a time when serious American fiction has tended toward extreme personal assertion and extravagance of manner, Richard G. Stern has been composing a body of work which is notable for its detailed craftsmanship, its intricacy, and its reticencies.”
Bergonzi, Bernard. “Herzog in Venice, I.” The New York Review of Books 5 (December 9, 1965): 26. Bergonzi claims that the hero of Stitch is modeled on Ezra Pound. He likes the novel but is uneasy about Stern’s evocation of literary myths.
Cavell, Marsha. “Visions of Battlements.” Partisan Review 38, no. 1 (1971): 117-121. Cavell reviews four books in this article, including 1968, by Stern. She discusses “Veni, Vidi Wendt” and “East, West Midwest” from Stern’s collection, seeing him as a satirist whose writing is “at once gentle and biting.”
Harris, Mark. Saul Bellow: Drumlin Woodchuck. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980. This book is primarily a study of Stern’s friend, Saul Bellow. It is dedicated to Stern and repeatedly treats him, especially in connection with his friendships with Harris and Bellow. Also discusses his friendship with Philip Roth and recognizes the difficulty most readers have with Stern’s work. Although Harris treats Stern throughout the book, the treatment is especially intensive in chapters 2 and 3.
Izzo, David Garrett. The Writings of Richard Stern: The Education of an Intellectual Everyman. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. A literary biography, discussing the major themes in his fiction and his use of fictionalized...
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