Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1044

Wright Morris was born in Central City, Nebraska, on January 6, 1910, the son of William Henry and Grace Osborn Morris. Morris’s mother, the daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist preacher, was born on a farm near the south shore of the Platte River. Six days after Wright’s birth, she died,...

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Wright Morris was born in Central City, Nebraska, on January 6, 1910, the son of William Henry and Grace Osborn Morris. Morris’s mother, the daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist preacher, was born on a farm near the south shore of the Platte River. Six days after Wright’s birth, she died, leaving an emotional scar that would in one way or another shape the direction of all of his fiction. Morris never knew his mother, and she becomes a nebulous figure in his writings, often made conspicuous by her absence and frequently suggested by way of contrast with the many shallow, distant, and largely dysfunctional motherly types who people his novels.

William Morris had come to Nebraska from Ohio, lured west to work as a station agent for the Union Pacific railroad. The “jovial good-natured” man to whom Morris refers in his memoirs was also something of a speculator, never sticking with one job for long. Shortly after Grace’s death, Will was remarried, to a young woman named Gertrude, left his position with the railroad, and took up chicken farming in an attempt to make a fortune supplying the railroad with day-old eggs. The enterprise failed when Morris’s father lost his entire stock of pullets to a fatal disease. This episode appears, thinly disguised as fiction, in The Works of Love (1952).

In 1919, Morris relocated with his father to Omaha. William’s fortunes continued to be bad, eventually leading Gertrude to abandon him and nine-year-old Wright, who by now was spending most of his time with the Mulligans, a foster family. In 1924, Morris and his father moved on to Chicago. Forced to live without much help from his father, who was struggling to find steady work, Morris learned rugged self-reliance the hard way, by supporting himself doing odd jobs and working at the local YMCA.

In 1926, in response to his father’s need for a “new start,” Morris made the first of several unsuccessful trips to and from California in search of better prospects. After returning to Chicago, Morris, though faced with virtually no home life, somehow managed to graduate from high school. In 1930, he enrolled in Pomona College in Claremont, California. In 1933, however, he left Pomona after deciding to spend some time traveling in Europe. After a soul-searching, adventurous year spent wandering in France, Italy, and Austria, Morris returned to the United States in 1934, convinced of his calling to become a writer.

By 1934, Morris had also married his first wife, Mary Ellen Finfrock, a teacher and native of Cleveland, Ohio. As early as 1936, Morris had begun to take photographs, which would later be published in his “photo-text” volumes, The Inhabitants (1946), The Home Place (1948), and God’s Country and My People (1968). During the winter of 1941, while living in Los Angeles, Morris wrote his first novel, My Uncle Dudley (1942), a picaresque tale giving fictive form to Morris’s many travels in the United States. During the 1940’s, Morris received the first two of his three Guggenheim Fellowships, allowing him to complete The Inhabitants and The Home Place. In addition to the two photo-texts and My Uncle Dudley, Morris found time to publish two other novels, The Man Who Was There (1945) and The World in the Attic (1949).

From 1944 to 1958, Morris lived in suburban Philadelphia, experiencing his most productive period and publishing some of his best work. The urban experience provided the impetus for Man and Boy (1951) and The Deep Sleep (1953). While in Philadelphia, Morris also became a neighbor and close friend to another Nebraskan, Loren Eiseley, the distinguished anthropologist, naturalist, and author of such books as The Immense Journey (1957), The Firmament of Time (1960), and The Innocent Assassins (1973). Eiseley’s influence proved to be profound, and he helped Morris formulate aesthetic notions about people and nature—how human consciousness and intellectual growth depend on the ability to come to grips with one’s past and the inevitable passage of time, a theme in much of Morris’s fiction.

During the 1950’s, Morris published The Works of Love (1952), a book that contains his quintessential statement not only about his father but also of the playing out of the American Dream of success on the Great Plains; The Huge Season (1954), a fictional account of his days at Pomona College; The Field of Vision (1956), a book that won the National Book Award; Love Among the Cannibals (1957), his most complete confrontation with the quotidian present; and The Territory Ahead (1958), an ambitious collection of essays on the major figures in American literature.

Morris ushered in the 1960’s with the publication of what many feel to be his most sophisticated novel, Ceremony in Lone Tree (1960), a multivoiced narrative about how time, place, and perspective shape the American experience. In 1961, he divorced Finfrock and married Josephine Kantor, a Los Angeles art collector and dealer. In 1962, he published What a Way to Go, his first major novel about Europe, and began teaching creative writing at San Francisco State University, where he remained until he retired in 1975. In 1963, Morris released Cause for Wonder, another novel set in Europe; in 1965, One Day, a book about the effects of the Kennedy assassination on a small California town; in 1967, In Orbit, a book about violence and crime in America’s heartland; and in 1968, A Bill of Rites, a Bill of Wrongs, a Bill of Goods, a collection of social criticism and witty commentary about the contemporary scene.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Morris continued his impressive production of fine fiction and critical essays by publishing Fire Sermon (1971), War Games (1972), A Life (1973), and About Fiction: Reverent Reflections on the Nature of Fiction with Irreverent Observations on Writers, Readers, and Other Abuses (1975). After a brief stint in 1976 as novelist-in-residence at the University of Nebraska, Morris completed The Fork River Space Project in 1977 and went on to write Plains Song, for Female Voices (1980), a novel that earned for Morris the American Book Award for Fiction in 1981.

After 1981, Morris shifted his attention to the writing of his memoirs. Starting with Will’s Boy, a story of Morris’s childhood, he traced his maturation as a writer through successive autobiographical writings such as Solo (1983), a recapturing of his 1933-1934 Wanderjahr in Europe, and A Cloak of Light (1985), a memoir that covers the writer’s middle years and ends with his second marriage (to Kantor).

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 110

Morris has been called “the least well-known and most widely appreciated” novelist in the United States today. A technical virtuoso, his unique combination of wry wit, spare rhetoric, vernacular precision, and narrative range distinguished him as one of the most original writers of his generation.

Though Morris’s writings are all deeply concerned with the ways in which the past determines human behavior, he was equally preoccupied with finding ways to function constructively in the present and the future. Because he saw the imagination as the primary force that gives shape to experience, his novels applaud those characters who find ways to use it in gaining control over their lives.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 283

Wright Marion Morris was born in Central City, Nebraska, on January 6, 1910. His mother, Ethel Grace (Osborn), died six days after his birth, and his father, William Henry Morris, reared his son (mostly alone) in rural Nebraska, Omaha, and Chicago. His father’s efforts to find a new mother for Morris and to make a fortune in the egg business were rewarded with only limited success.

Between 1925 and 1930, Morris worked on a farm in Texas with his uncle. He later crossed the country in several run-down cars and lived in Chicago with his father, whose ill-fated enterprises encouraged Morris’s early financial and emotional independence and propelled him into his long and productive writing career.

After briefly attending the City College of Chicago and Pacific Union College, Morris transferred to Pomona College and remained there from 1930 to 1933. In 1933, Morris traveled to Europe, where he remained for one year. He married Mary Ellen Finfrock in 1934. He supported himself by teaching drawing and swimming, while he learned the arts of fiction-writing and photography. After he had published several novels, Morris taught at several universities, including Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, Swarthmore College, and others. Divorced in 1961, Morris married Josephine Kantor that same year. He was a professor of English at San Francisco State University from 1962 until his retirement in 1975.

In 1992, Morris, then in his eighties, told an interviewer he had ceased writing. Only two more stories were published after the definitive Collected Stories: 1948-1986. One was “Uno Más” (one more), appearing in The New Yorker (February 6, 1989). The other was “What’s New, Love?” (about a waitress with a secret crush on a famous movie star who frequents her coffee shop), published in American Short Fiction.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 329

After his birth in Central City, Nebraska, Wright Marion Morris lived with his father in Schuyler, Kearney, and other small Nebraska towns along the Platte River before moving to Omaha. (His mother died six days after his birth.) He worked for two summers on his uncle Harry’s farm in Norfolk, Nebraska, but the move to Chicago in 1924 brought him a different kind of employment at the YMCA. He attended college in California for five weeks, then worked for several months on the Texas ranch of his uncle Dwight Osborn. He entered Pomona College in Claremont, California, but withdrew to spend a year in Austria, Italy, Germany, and France. He had written some brief prose sketches while at Pomona, and he returned to California to begin his first novel.

Morris married Mary Ellen Finfrock of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1934. Between 1935 and 1938, he wrote two novels and the sketches for The Inhabitants and developed the interest in photography that flourished during two summers at Wellfleet, Massachusetts. In 1940-1941, he toured the United States, taking pictures to be used in The Inhabitants. He lived in California two more years before moving to Haverford, Pennsylvania, in 1944. In 1954, he began spending more time in Venice, Italy, Mexico, and Greece, returning intermittently to California. He lectured at the University of Southern California and at Amherst College and taught at California State University, Los Angeles. He was a professor of English at San Francisco State University from 1962 until his retirement in 1975.

In 1961, Morris and his first wife were divorced, and Morris married Josephine Kantor. He was selected in 1983 to occupy the visiting writer’s chair at the University of Alabama. In 1992, an exhibition of Morris’s photography was held in San Francisco. Morris died of unreported causes in Mill Valley, California, where he had lived since the early 1960’s, on April 25, 1998. In the obituary in The New York Times, Ralph Blumenthal noted that Morris is “often called one of the nation’s most unrecognized recognized writers.”

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