Stanley Lawrence Elkin had the distinction of multiple tenancy in some of the most compelling camps of contemporary fiction: He is categorized along with writers such as Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth as a prominent contributor to the postwar Jewish American renaissance; he is often compared with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Bruce Jay Friedman, and other so-called black humorists; and he was allied with Robert Coover, William Gass, and John Hawkes by virtue of his self-conscious craftsmanship and postrealist sensibilities. Born in 1930 in Brooklyn, Elkin described his father as an energetic salesman who was always ready with a good joke or story. His father appears to be the model for Elkin’s parade of word-drunk middle-class obsessives, the “vocalized vocations,” manic drummers, and eccentric raconteurs that dominate his novels. He credited his mother for paving the way to his writing career by financing a trip to Europe that temporarily relieved him of the demands of writing his dissertation (on William Faulkner) and that enabled him to complete his first novel, Boswell.
Elkin was reared on Chicago’s South Side, where his early aptitude for writing stories led to his decision to enter the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he first majored in journalism and then in English. His extracurricular activities included contributing to the literary magazine and performing in radio dramas. He earned his B.A. degree in 1952 and his M.A. degree in 1953, the year he married Joan Marion Jacobson. His progress toward his Ph.D., which he would earn in 1961, was interrupted by service in the Army from 1955 to 1957. While he was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, he produced a training manual on forklift trucks and acted in local plays. Elkin resumed his teaching duties at Washington University in St. Louis, where he became a tenured professor. His honors include the Longview Foundation Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy grant, The Sewanee Review Prize (in 1981, for Stanley Elkin’s Greatest Hits), and the...
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