Robert Coover Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Robert Lowell Coover was born in Charles City, Iowa, on February 4, 1932. His family later moved to Indiana and then to Herrin, Illinois, where his father, Grant Marion Coover, managed the town newspaper. (Both the newspaper and a local mining disaster figure prominently in Coover’s first novel.) Small-town life as the son of a newspaperman gave Coover both an interest in journalism and a desire to travel. After beginning his college education at nearby Southern Illinois University(1949-1951), he transferred to Indiana University, where he received a B.A. in 1953, at which time he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he attained the rank of lieutenant. While serving in Europe, he met Marie del Pilar San-Mallafre, whom he married on June 13, 1959.

Coover’s serious interest in fiction dates from the period immediately prior to his marriage, and his novel writing followed the favorable response to his first published story, “Blackdamp” (1961), which he reworked and expanded into The Origin of the Brunists. Unable to make a living as a fiction writer, Coover left Spain, his wife’s native country, and began teaching in the United States; he held positions at Bard College (1966-1967), the University of Iowa (1967-1969), Columbia University (1972), Princeton University (1972-1973), and Virginia Military Institute (1976), and has served as writer-in-residence at Wisconsin State University-Superior (1968) and Washington University (1969). Since 1979, he has taught at Brown University....

(The entire section is 620 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207072-Coover.jpg Robert Coover. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Robert Lowell Coover has written in a variety of literary forms, including that of short fiction, drama, film script, novella, and review-essay, of which he wrote a handful on such writers as Samuel Beckett and Gabriel García Márquez, for whom he has a special affinity. It is through the novel, however, that he achieved his greatest renown. A major figure in twentieth century American literature, he demonstrated no interest whatsoever in the celebrity and mass appeal that in the West are often equated with literary success. On the other hand, it is from the same mass culture that Coover draws the subjects of his fiction, among them baseball, Cold War paranoia, apocalyptic religion, Charles Chaplin, Richard Nixon, and Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (1957).

Coover was born in the small mining town of Charles City, Iowa, where his father managed the local newspaper. After college, a tour of duty in the Navy, and marriage, Coover began teaching (at Bard College and other colleges) while devoting as much time as possible to his writing. Unlike the majority of so-called academic writers, Coover spent most of his career away from the universities until the early 1980’s, when he joined the faculty of Brown University. Encouraged to expand and elaborate on the mining materials in his early story “Blackdamp” (1961), Coover produced the work that established his importance as a young as well as daring—and, to some reviewers, iconoclastic—writer, The Origin of the Brunists, which won the 1966 William Faulkner Award for best first novel.

The thematic and technical preoccupations of Coover’s entire career can be found in this novel. Coover is in many ways a moralist determined to show the error of human ways. He positions human beings not at the center of the world but rather at the center of the fictions they themselves construct to explain that world and make it amenable to human habitation and their inflated sense of their own self-importance. Longing for stasis and immortality, Coover’s characters persist in believing in such used-up forms and ideas as realism, reason, progress, and religion, all the metaphors they have come to accept as reality. Such acceptance prevents them from taking responsibility for their own existence as the begetters of the fictive beliefs by which they live. Coover’s narrative method stands as the antithesis of his characters’ static obsessiveness. Rather than allowing himself to be imprisoned by fiction, Coover exploits fiction’s metaphoric possibilities, making it increasingly difficult...

(The entire section is 1052 words.)