Robert Coover

Start Your Free Trial

Download Robert Coover Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Coover 1932-

(Full name Robert Lowell Coover) American novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenwriter, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Coover's career through 2000. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 7, 15, 32, 46, and 87.

Among the vanguard of American postmodern writers to come of age during the late 1960s, Coover is respected as a vital experimentalist whose challenging work continues to offer insight into the nature of literary creation, narrative forms, and cultural myths. Convinced early in his career that traditional fictional modes were exhausted, Coover has pioneered a variety of inventive narrative techniques, notably complex metafictional structures and ludic pastiches of various genres to satirize contemporary American society and the role of the author. In this way, he has attempted to subvert and revitalize older, cliché-ridden literary forms. In novels such as Gerald's Party (1986), Pinocchio in Venice (1991), and Ghost Town (1998), Coover offers idiosyncratic reworkings of the detective story, the fairy tale, and the Western, respectively. Likewise, in The Public Burning (1977), one of Coover's most acclaimed works, he reinterprets events from twentieth-century American history. Since the early 1990s, upon predicting the demise of the novel, Coover has also taken a leading role in the development of “hyperfiction” and other computer-based literary experiments.

Biographical Information

Born Robert Lowell Coover in Charles City, Iowa, Coover moved with his family early in his life to Herrin, Illinois, where his father was the managing editor for the Herrin Daily Journal. Emulating his father, Coover edited and wrote for various school newspapers under the nom-de-plume “Scoop.” He was also his high-school class president, a school band member, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Cincinnati Reds. In 1949 Coover enrolled in Southern Illinois University, and, after transferring to Indiana University in 1951, earned his bachelor's degree in 1953 with a major in Slavonic languages. While in college, he continued editing student papers, as well as working part-time for his father's newspaper. The day he graduated, Coover received his draft notice and went on to serve in the U.S. Naval Reserve during the Korean War, attaining the rank of lieutenant. Upon his discharge in 1957, Coover devoted himself to fiction. During the summer of that year, he spent a month sequestered in a cabin near the Canadian border, where he studied the work of Samuel Beckett and committed himself to writing serious avant-garde fiction. In 1958, he travelled to Spain, where he reunited with Maria del Pilar Sans-Mallafré, whom he had earlier met while serving a military tour in Europe. The couple married in 1959 and spent the summer touring southern Europe by motorcycle, an experience he described in “One Summer in Spain: Five Poems,” his first published work. Between 1958 and 1961, Coover studied at the University of Chicago, eventually receiving his master's degree in 1965. The Coovers lived in Spain for most of the early 1960s, a time during which Coover began regularly publishing stories in literary magazines, including the Evergreen Review. In 1966, after the couple returned to the United States, Coover took a teaching position at Bard College in New York. He also published his first novel, The Origin of the Brunists (1966), which won the William Faulkner Award for best first novel. In 1969, Coover won a Rockefeller Foundation grant and published Pricksongs and Descants, his first collection of short fiction. That year, he also wrote, produced, and directed a movie, On a Confrontation in Iowa City (1969). Coover has maintained an interest in film throughout his career. During the early 1970s, Coover published only short stories and drama, including A Theological Position (1972), a collection of one-act plays, all of which were eventually produced for the stage. He also won Guggenheim...

(The entire section is 73,313 words.)