JAMES ALAN MCPHERSON Biography - Writers


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James Alan McPherson is among that generation of African American writers     
and intellectuals, including Charles Johnson and Stanley Crouch, who were     
inspired and mentored by Ralph Ellison. McPherson's early short story         
"Gold Coast" won the 1965 Atlantic Monthly Firsts award. In 1978 he was       
the first African American recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for     
his 1977 story collection, Elbow Room. Frequently anthologized, McPherson     
has received such prestigious honors as a Guggenheim Fellowship (1972-73),     
the MacArthur Fellowship (1981), several Pushcart Prizes, and induction       
into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1995).                         
Born in Savannah on September 16, 1943, before integration, McPherson         
recollects playing hooky from school in order to read in the "colored         
branch" of the local Carnegie Library. In 1962 he worked as a dining-car       
waiter for the Great Northern Railroad. He attended Morgan State               
University in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1963 to 1964 and earned a B.A.         
degree at Morris Brown College in Atlanta in 1965. Subsequently he             
attended Harvard University Law School (LL.B., 1968) in Cambridge,             
Massachusetts, the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, and the         
Yale University Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. With his M.F.A.         
degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa (1969), he has         
taught at a variety of institutions, including the University of               
California, Santa Cruz; Harvard University; the University of Virginia;       
and the University of Iowa, where he is currently professor of English. He     
has also lectured in Japan.                                                   
As a writer McPherson sees himself most fully as a practitioner of the         
short story. His stories have appeared in many different periodicals,         
including mainstream magazines like the Atlantic Monthly and Playboy and       
small-press journals like the  Harvard Review and Ploughshares. The best       
of his work has been collected in Hue and Cry (1968) and Elbow Room           
(1977). His memoir, Crabcakes (1998), which records his life from 1976         
through his experiences teaching in Japan, is also very much in the mode       
of a series of stories.                                                       
Like Ralph Ellison, McPherson sees African American culture as integrally     
connected with the "white" culture. He doesn't consider himself a "black       
writer" but rather thinks of himself in relation to other practitioners of     
the American tradition of short fiction. Although he writes on topics         
drawn from his experiences as a black man, he rejects the notion that         
black or white fiction must necessarily concern certain black or white         
topics. Indeed, his concern is to record stories that might be lost           
because of such conformity.                                                   
As an editor and critic, McPherson has produced several books. Railroad:       
Trains and Train People (1976), coedited with poet Miller Williams, grew       
out of his experiences working on the railroad. In association with DeWitt     
Henry, founding editor of Ploughshares, McPherson compiled and edited         
Confronting Racial Difference (1990) and Fathering Daughters: Reflections     
by Men (1998). In 2000 he published A Region Not Home: Reflections from       
Exile, a collection of twelve essays and reviews. It includes his classic     
"On Becoming an American Writer" and "Gravitas," his appreciation of Ralph     
Ellison on the occasion of the posthumous publication of Ellison's novel       
Juneteenth  in 1999.