Shirley Ann Grau (grow) is an important southern writer whose novels and short fiction, which are praised for their craftsmanship and economy, reflect the southern preoccupation with the effect of history on individual lives. She is the daughter of Adolphe Eugene Grau, a well-to-do dentist, and Katherine Onions Grau. Her father’s family, of Prussian background, settled in New Orleans after the Civil War, while on her mother’s side, Grau has a more conventional English, Celtic, and Native American background. Grau was educated at a small private school, Margaret Booth Academy, in Montgomery, Alabama. There she developed a lifelong interest in Latin and Greek. As a senior, she transferred to the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans and then went on to Sophie Newcomb College, the women’s college of Tulane University, where she earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and received a B.A. with honors in English in 1950. In 1955 she married a professor at Tulane University, James Kern Feibleman; they would have four children.
When Grau’s first collection of short stories, The Black Prince, and Other Stories, was published, it was well received. Set in southern Louisiana, the stories deal with both whites and blacks, whose will to survive and to triumph was too frequently thwarted by death (the product of violence in the environment or simply blind fate). Grau’s first novel, The Hard Blue Sky, was highly praised for its realistic description of the lives of primitive, inbred fishermen on an island at the mouth of the Mississippi. It was her complex and dramatic fourth book, The Keepers of the House, however, which won for her critical acclaim, as well as the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Set in the Delta rather than in the bayous, this novel traces the relationships between whites and blacks through three generations of a plantation family.
Although the reception of Grau’s later novels has been mixed, her short stories have been so much praised that some critics suggest she is most effective in this genre. In The Condor Passes, Grau examines the lives of a number of characters in separate episodes, attempting to achieve unity primarily through symbolism. It is significant that many reviewers accused this novel of a lack of unity. On the other hand, when she writes her undeniably fascinating sketches in short-story form, as in the collection Nine Women, she seems to be highly...
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