William Goyen Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The writer Charles William Goyen suffered the difficult fate of the artist whose work defies or resists classification. Born in the East Texas sawmill town of Trinity, Goyen spent his early boyhood on the border between the pine forests of the Big Thicket and the open grasslands of central Texas. For the first seven years of his life he lived in and around his grandmother’s house, in the company of cousins and uncles whose voices and stories, along with Goyen’s own, eventually formed the fabric of his first novel, The House of Breath. In 1923 Goyen’s family moved first to Shreveport, Louisiana, and then to Houston, Texas, where he attended Sam Houston High School and later Rice Institute (now Rice University). At Rice, Goyen studied literature and creative writing, eventually winning prizes for both his short-story and his play writing. After receiving his B.A. in 1937 and M.A. in 1939, Goyen taught briefly before enlisting in the Navy, where he served from 1940 to 1945 aboard the aircraft carrier Casablanca.

It was during these difficult years of isolation and frequent loneliness that Goyen began The House of Breath. This short lyric novel—a series of descriptions and monologues summoned from the memory of an unnamed narrator—recreates the world of Goyen’s childhood. Instead of a single, unified narrative, the book is constructed of descriptive pieces, remembered visions of relatives (Sue Emma, who is called “Swimma,” Granny Ganchion, Aunt Malley, and Uncle Walter Warren), disconnected stories, and imagined voices that speak for the place and the land. These fragments of time and speech are gathered together and held in place by the image of the old house, itself a figure for the narrator’s own recollection and evocation of his past. The publication of The House of Breath in 1950 brought Goyen significant recognition. He...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in Texas to a lumber salesman, Charles Provine Goyen and his wife, Mary Inez (Trow), on April 24, 1915, William Goyen has said that his first seven years in the small town of Trinity supplied the material for the short stories he wrote. He then moved to Houston. From Rice University he got a B.A. and an M.A. in comparative literature. From 1940 to 1945, he served in the Navy, where he began his first novel. He lived in Taos, New Mexico, where he met Frieda Lawrence, who was to have a profound influence on the young man: “Frieda brought me a sense of the richness of the great world, and that, together with what I had come through—college, Texas, the war—got me ready to move into the real world that I had never been in.” After New Mexico, he lived in Europe for some time, staying with Stephen Spender in London in 1949. In 1951 and 1952, he became friendly with Truman Capote and Carson McCullers. After another year in Europe (Italy and Switzerland), he returned to New Mexico. In the 1950’s, he began to work in theater, film, and television. On November 10, 1963, he married Doris Roberts, an actress. That same year, he won a Ford Foundation grant. He served as senior editor at McGraw-Hill from 1966 to 1972.

Goyen began a distinguished career as a university professor in 1955 at the New School for Social Research, where he taught until 1960. He was a participant in the Columbia University Writing Program from 1963 until 1965; he also taught at...

(The entire section is 463 words.)