William Howard Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 30, 1924, the son of William and Claire (Sorensen) Gass. With two brief exceptions, Gass has spent most of his life in the Midwest, the place most frequently evoked in his works of fiction. From 1943 to 1946, he served in the U.S. Navy, principally in China and Japan. He left the Navy in 1946 with the rank of ensign, and in 1947 he finished his undergraduate studies at Kenyon College in Ohio. He then enrolled in graduate studies in philosophy at Cornell University in New York, specializing in the philosophical analysis of language, a preoccupation that would become the central focus in his works of fiction.
While working on his Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell, Gass supported himself by working as an instructor of philosophy at the College of Wooster (in Wooster, Ohio) from 1950 to 1954. On June 17, 1952, he married Mary Patricia O’Kelly, with whom he had two sons and one daughter. In 1954, he received the Ph.D. from Cornell and immediately took a new teaching position as a professor at Purdue University, where he taught until 1969. The period at Purdue was an especially productive one for Gass. During this time, he published his highly original first novel, Omensetter’s Luck (1966), and a critically acclaimed book of short stories, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Other Stories (1968). In 1968, Gass also published an important novella, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife, which appeared in the pages of TriQuarterly magazine. In 1969, he married again, to Mary Alice Henderson, with whom he had two daughters.
In 1969, Gass also began a long and fruitful association with Washington...
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