Robert (Lowell) Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa, on February 4, 1932, to Maxine (Sweet) Coover and Grant Marion Coover, but as a child of nine moved to Bedford, Indiana, and then later to Herrin, Illinois. At Herrin he was president of his high school class, edited school newspapers as “Scoop” Coover, and wrote a column called “Koover’s Korner.” In high school he avidly followed baseball and played tabletop baseball as well; the sport figures prominently in his second novel, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968). Coover attended Southern Illinois University from 1949 to 1951, where he worked as a reporter for the college newspaper, the Egyptian. In 1951 he transferred to Indiana University, from which he graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of arts degree in Slavic studies.
Until graduation he wrote for the Herrin Daily Journal, of which his father was managing editor. Coover’s first novel, Origin of the Brunists (1966), would feature the character of a small-town newspaper man. Shortly after graduation, Coover enlisted in the Navy and served as a lieutenant from 1953 to 1957. Most of his Korean War service was in Europe.
In the summer of 1957, Coover spent a month at Rainy Lake, Minnesota, where he began writing the innovative stories of his second book, Pricksongs and Descants (1969), including “The Magic Poker,” which mentions Rainy Lake. He discovered Samuel Beckett that summer, whose work influenced him profoundly. He later published an essay on Beckett, “The Last Quixote.”
In 1958, Coover began graduate studies at the University of Chicago, which he attended until 1961. He received an M.A. in general studies in the humanities in 1965. He traveled in Spain between 1958 and 1959. In June of 1959, he married María del Pilar, whom he had met while on a Mediterranean tour during his Korean War service. The couple honeymooned in southern Europe, traveling by motorcycle. Coover’s first publication arose from these travels: “One Summer in Spain: Five Poems” appeared in Fiddlehead in 1960.
Back at the University of Chicago, Coover was deeply influenced by Richard McKeon, a professor of philosophy and...
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Beginning with his earliest publications, Coover has challenged the American literary and cultural status quo. He also challenges the reader. Coover mixes realism with the fantastic, interrogates history, and rewrites the sacred texts of world culture, whether Bible stories, children’s stories, myths, fairy tales, or folk tales. He dismantles the accepted and the expected to create the unexpected, to move his readers from the past to the future.
Robert Lowell Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa. His family soon moved to Indiana and then to Herrin, Illinois. His father managed the local newspaper, the Herrin Daily Journal, which prompted Coover’s interest in journalism. His college education began at Southern Illinois University (1949-1951), but he transferred to Indiana University, where he received a B.A., with a major in Slavic studies, in 1953. After graduation, Coover was drafted and joined the United States Naval Reserve.
While in Spain, he met Maria del Pilar Sans-Mallafré, who became his wife on June 13, 1959. During these years, his interest in fiction began. His first published story, “Blackdamp,” was the seed of his first novel, The Origin of the Brunists. He received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1965. During the following years, Coover and his family alternated stays in Europe with periods in the United States. The several awards he received during the 1970’s made him financially secure and allowed him to continue writing.
Coover has held appointments at Bard College, the University of Iowa, Columbia University, Princeton University, the Virginia Military Institute, and he has been a distinguished professor at Brown University since 1979. He has also been writer-in-residence at Wisconsin State University. In spite of a large amount of time spent abroad (in Europe and in South America) and his outspoken need to take distance from his...
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