Discipline: Literature – fiction, Literature – nonfiction

William Styron

Discipline: Literature – fiction, Literature – nonfiction
Region: Martha's Vineyard, MA

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1988

William Clark Styron Jr. (1925-2006) was an American novelist and essayist. He grew up in the South and was steeped in its history. His birthplace was less than a hundred miles from the site of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, later the source for Styron's most famous and controversial novel The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

By the age of 18 he was reading the writers who would have a lasting influence on his vocation as a novelist and essayist, especially Thomas Wolfe, while enrolled in Davidson College. Styron transferred to Duke University in 1943 as a part of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps V-12 program aimed at fast-tracking officer candidates by enrolling them simultaneously in basic training and bachelor's degree programs. There he published his first fiction in an anthology of student work, a short story heavily influenced by William Faulkner.

After graduation, Styron took an editing position with McGraw-Hill in New York City. He later recalled the misery of this work in an autobiographical passage in Sophie’s Choice. After provoking his employers into firing him, he set about writing his first novel in earnest. Three years later, he published the novel Lie Down in Darkness (1951), the story of a dysfunctional Virginia family. The novel received overwhelming critical acclaim. For this novel, Styron received the prestigious Rome Prize.

Photo by Harriet Gans