Although William Goyen asserted that “short fiction is what I most care about the short narrative form most challenges and most frees me,” he wrote several highly acclaimed novels, including The House of Breath (1950, 1975), Come, the Restorer (1974), and Arcadio (1983). Goyen was also a playwright of some distinction although his plays have never been published. In addition, he wrote two television plays, A Possibility of Oil (1958) and The Mind (1961). Goyen was the playwright-in-residence at Lincoln Center from 1963 to 1964. He was a brilliant lecturer and critic; his essays appeared in The New York Times, TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, and other journals. In 1973, he published a biography of Jesus Christ, A Book of Jesus, and at the time of his death, he was at work on studies of Saint Paul and Saint Francis. He was also working on an autobiography/memoir of six influential women in his life. Throughout his life, Goyen was intensely interested in music and was recognized as a composer of considerable ability.
William Goyen won the McMurray Award in 1950 for The House of Breath; he was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow in creative writing in 1952 and 1954. He received the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters award for the best comic novel of 1962, and he earned a Ford Foundation grant for novelists writing for the theater (Lincoln Center Repertory Company) in 1963 and 1964. In 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, and 1970, he won the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers award for musical composition. The Collected Stories of William Goyen was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and in 1976, Goyen won the O. Henry Award for short stories. The prestigious French journal Delta devoted its entire ninth issue to Goyen in 1979. During his distinguished career, Goyen earned what is rarer than any literary award: the unqualified admiration and affection of his peers. He was recognized as being not only a storyteller of originality and consummate skill but also, and more important, an artist and man of genuine integrity, dignity, and spirituality.
Bawer, Bruce. “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Log.” The New York Times, July 17, 1994. Bawer reviews Goyen’s Half a Look of Cain: A Fantastic Narrative; discusses it as a dreamlike, Chinese box of a book with nothing for readers of conventional novels to grasp on to; claims it is the work of a brilliant writer, but is emotionally inert.
Duncan, Erika. “Come a Spiritual Healer: A Profile of William Goyen.” Book Forum 3 (1979): 296-303. Duncan’s sensitive essay is part analysis and part personal reminiscence. She suggests that Goyen’s stories and novels involve a search “for the radiance of life and the hidden meaning in the darkness.”
Goyen, William. “An Interview with William Goyen.” Interview by Reginald Gibbons and Molly McQuade. TriQuarterly 56 (1983): 97-125. Goyen gave several illuminating and interesting interviews during the course of his career. This late interview, which is preceded by a brief biography and a critical assessment of Goyen’s work, yields a fascinating, in-depth look into Goyen’s ideas on life, art, spirituality, and his own works.
Gibbons, Reginald. William Goyen: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Part of Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction series, this volume provides an excellent overview of Goyen’s short stories. Includes bibliographical references and an index....
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