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John O'Hara (John Henry O'Hara) Biography

(1905–70), (John Henry O'Hara), New Yorker, Appointment in Samarra, Butterfield 8, Hope of Heaven

American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. One of the most prolific of twentieth-century American writers, O'Hara never attended college or university, but his literary apprenticeship on small-town newspapers provided him with a rich repository of anecdote and incident upon which he drew over his literary career; a fine eye for detail and an understanding of how detail can be made fictionally significant are gifts that give his major novels their precise realism and their value as social documents. He began writing stories for the New Yorker in 1928 but his first novel, Appointment in Samarra (1934), established him as a novelist of considerable potential; it remains one of the most distinguished American novels of the inter-war years. The historian Allan Nevins said of his subsequent novel, Butterfield 8 (1935), that no one could hope to understand the world of 1930s America without reading it. Both novels draw on O'Hara's familiarity with Pennsylvania and New York; his third novel, Hope of Heaven (1938), moves to Hollywood (O'Hara was a scriptwriter for Paramount, and other studios, from 1934). His third collection of short stories, Pal Joey (1940), was adapted for the musical theatre by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and filmed in 1958. During the Second World War, O'Hara was a war correspondent; he returned to the novel with A Rage to Live (1949), set in the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and over the next twenty-one years he added another twelve novels and several collections of short stories to his oeuvre. The most important of his later works are From the Terrace (1958), Ourselves to Know (1960), Elizabeth Appleton (1963), The Lockwood Concern (1965), and the two posthumously published works, The Ewings (1972) and The Second Ewings (1977). He was frequently criticized for the superficial realism of his fiction and the sometimes disproportionate attention he gives to minor detail, but he had admirers in contemporaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, who considered him the most underrated writer in the USA. See The O'Hara Concern: A Biography (1975) by Matthew J. Bruccoli; O'Hara (1983) by Robert Emmet Long is a critical study.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography