At a Glance
T. Coraghessan Boyle has invited comparisons to the great nineteenth-century writer Mark Twain throughout his career, and with good reason. Like Twain’s work, Boyle’s writing is characterized by a sharp and ironic sense of humor. An example of this is his wry novel about John Harvey Kellogg, The Road to Wellville. Yet Boyle’s books are more than lightweight comedies about the foibles of men. Underneath the tart humor is profound commentary about the society in which his characters live. In addition to his novels, Boyle has authored numerous short story collections, most famously Greasy Lake, which applies his unique sensibility to autobiographical tales of life in New York.
Facts and Trivia
- Boyle’s given middle name was John. As a young man, he had it legally changed to Coraghessan.
- The well-educated Boyle has a BA in English, an MFA in creative writing, and a PhD in nineteenth-century British literature.
- Shortly after completing his doctoral work, Boyle received a creative writing grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
- For more than twenty years, Boyle has taught English at U.C. Santa Barbara.
- Boyle’s epic World’s End earned him the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Award. The novel takes place over three centuries in New York and is a smorgasbord of seemingly incongruous characters and situations.
Madison Smartt Bell was born on August 1, 1957, in Franklin, Tennessee. He was educated at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and at Princeton University, where he won awards for fiction writing and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1979, he graduated summa cum laude. He then spent a year in New York working at various jobs and doing research and writing for the Franklin Library. From 1979 to 1984, Bell was a director of a film production company, the 185 Corporation.
After a year’s study at Hollins College, Bell received his master’s degree in English and creative writing in 1981. Back in New York, he continued working for the Franklin Library and also for the Berkeley Publishing Corporation. His first novel, The Washington Square Ensemble, was published in 1983.
The following year, Bell moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and became an assistant professor of English at Goucher College, a position he held until 1986. In 1985, he married the poet Elizabeth Spires. After a year as a lecturer at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Bell returned to Goucher as writer-in-residence in 1988. He has also taught graduate writing seminars at The Johns Hopkins University.
Boyle has arguably become one of the most ambitious and enthusiastic American authors writing today. Both in the scope of his picaresque novels and in the perception of his satiric short stories, he has carved out a place for himself in the comic experimental tradition of Barth and Barthelme. He is not a slavish imitator of those writers, however; he has a unique voice that manages to hover delicately between the serious and the satiric, and he has his own vision of the importance of history in the American psyche.
Born into a lower-middle-class family in Peekskill, New York, in 1948, Thomas John Boyle was a rebellious youth who performed in a rock-and-roll band, committed acts of vandalism, and drank heavily. He did not get along with his father, a school-bus driver whose alcoholism killed him at fifty-four, in 1972. Boyle’s mother, a secretary, was also an alcoholic and died of liver failure. Assuming the name T. Coraghessan Boyle at the State University of New York at Potsdam, he studied saxophone and clarinet until he realized that he lacked the necessary discipline for music. He then drifted into literature. After college, to avoid military service during the Vietnam War, he taught English for two years at his alma mater, Lakeland High School, in Shrub Oak, New York, while indulging in heroin on weekends.
In 1972, Boyle entered the creative writing program at the University of Iowa, where he studied under Vance Bourjaily, John Cheever, and John Irving,...
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