The Perfect Novel

Oct 4, 2020

Discover American author John Edward Williams, who wrote Stoner, critically described as the "perfect novel."

Yet, both Williams and this book remain largely obscure to American readers. On this episode, we interview renowned literary biographer Charles J. Shields. 

Shield's book, The Perfect Novel: John Williams, Stoner, and the Writing Life published by The University of Texas Press is a detailed account of John William's life and explores how William's seminal novel Stoner remains largely unknown in the United States, while finding a wide, popular audience in Europe.

Author John E. Williams
Credit Wikipedia

Published by University of Texas Press

Quote from book

The subject of a biography should be the person's search for identity. Answering the question "Who am I?" is the great work of life, and all of a person's efforts are, in some way, responses to that unvoiced question, which begins to be heard in childhood as soon as children perceive themselves as different and apart from everyone else. . . John William's discovery at age nine that he was someone else--not his father's son, not a Williams, and not related to his litter sister, George Rae, in the way he had been led to believe--upended his world. 

Over his career, Williams published four novels including Nothing But the Night (1948), Butcher's Crossing (1960), Stoner (1965), and Augustus (1972), which shared the National Book Award with John Barth that year. He also published two books of poetry.

Williams taught at the University of Denver and ended his career at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He died in 1994 from a respiratory disorder.

Charles J. Shields is the author of biographies including, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, (2006), And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life, (2011), and I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (2008; rev. 2018).

Biographer Charles J. Shields

He is currently working on his next biography about Lorraine Hansberry, who is best known for her play, Raisin in the Sun and was the first African American woman to have a play performed on Broadway. There is Always Something Left to Love: Lorraine Hansberry & A Raisin in the Sun is scheduled for publication in 2020. Shields is married and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Voice actors for this episode are Nathan Vandiver, Michael DeAngelis and Frank Thurmond.

Music for this episode is by Frank Thurmond and Barry Burks, Silas Hite, Nick Devlin, and Joseph Fuller with Fan Zeng on cello. 

 

Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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