A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life

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Harper & Row, 1985 - Novelists, American - 306 pages

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About the author (1985)

Early in his career, Wright Morris was called by Mark Schorer "probably the most original young novelist writing in the United States." In 1968 Leon Howard wrote: "Wright Morris has been the most consistently original of American novelists for a quarter of a century." Since then, the University of Nebraska Press has brought out new editions of his first 17 novels. Although both critical and popular appreciation of his work continues to grow slowly, there is a general consensus that he ranks high among contemporary American novelists. Born in Central City, Nebraska, the Lone Tree of his fiction, Morris attended Pomona College in California and had an academic career chiefly at San Francisco State University until his retirement in 1975. Nebraska and California have provided the main settings for his work, but he has traveled widely here and abroad, and some of his best novels relate the picaresque odysseys made by engaging characters. For instance, his first novel, My Uncle Dudley (1942), is a fictionalized account of a trip to California with his father that motherless Morris made as a youth. When almost 30 years later Morris wrote about another east-to-west journey in Fire Sermon (1971), in which an old man and a boy encounter three young hippies, Granville Hicks called the book "simon-pure, dyed-in-the-wool honest-to-God Wright Morris of the very highest grade" (N.Y. Times). The Field of Vision (1956), which deals with "innocents abroad in Mexico," won the National Book Award for fiction in 1957 and ranks behind only Ceremony in Lone Tree (1960) as his most successful novel.Ceremony involves four generations at a family reunion as Morris ingeniously reconciles the past, present, and future in a story that avoids both nostalgia and the disillusionment of the you-can't-go-home-again theme that appears quite often in his other fiction. Critics attempting to define Morris's originality have emphasized his distinctive style---a Faulkner-like ability to draw characters that come alive as individuals, his cross-country Americanness, and a strong sense of place that may owe something to Morris's considerable gifts as a photographer. Morris's fine feeling for the conjunction of time and place is evident in his several books of photographs with text: The Inhabitants (1946), The Home Place (1948), God's Country and My People (1968), Photographs and Words, and Picture America (1982). Other nonfiction includes a collection of essays on contemporary social and political problems---A Bill of Rites, a Bill of Wrongs, a Bill of Goods (1967)---and two widely praised volumes of criticism---The Territory Ahead: Critical Iinterpretations in American Literature (1958) and Earthly Delights, Unearthly Adornments: American Writers as Image Makers. Two volumes of personal memoirs are Will's Boy (1981) and Solo: An American Dreamer in Europe, 1933--1934 (1983).

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