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John Gardner (John Champlin, Jr Gardner) Biography

(1933–82), (John Champlin, Jr Gardner), The Old Men, The Forms of Fiction

American novelist, poet, short-story writer, editor, and critic, born in Batavia, New York, educated at De Pauw University, Washington University, and the University of Iowa. Gardner successfully combined the life of the teacher and scholar (particularly of medieval and classical literature) with those of novelist, editor, translator, and librettist. After finishing his doctorate at the University of Iowa (he submitted a novel, The Old Men, for his dissertation), Gardner took up his first teaching position at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1958 before moving to California State University at Chico where he taught from 1959 until 1962. His early writings are mainly editorial and critical: he co-edited The Forms of Fiction (1962), and his edition of The Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet in a Modern English Version (1965) was extremely well received. His first novel, The Resurrection (1966), was not successful, but his second, The Wreckage of Agathon (1970), which draws extensively on the literature of classical antiquity, brought him considerable critical attention. His most successful novel was Grendel (1971), in which Gardner reimagines the story of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster; the novel is simultaneously learned, comic, and, at times, deeply moving and offers powerful testimony to Gardner's critical view that literature should be ‘wise, sane, and magical’. His later novels include The Sunlight Dialogues (1972), Jason and Medea (1973, a novel in verse), Nickel Mountain (1973), October Light (1976; National Book Critics Circle Award), Freddy's Book (1980), and Mickelsson's Ghosts (1982) thought by many critics to be his most demanding and ambitious novel. Gardner's fiction as a whole explores what he calls ‘the nature and ramifications of man's two essential choices, affirmation and denial’, and in an age when so much of the fiction of his contemporaries is characterized by submission to life's destructive forces his is notable for its affirmation of the transcendent power of art. His many other writings include one volume of poetry, Poems (1978); the critical studies On Moral Fiction (1978), which caused controversy for the charges of ‘immorality’ levelled at some of Gardner's contemporaries, and the posthumously published The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (1983), both valuable for their articulation of his theories of fiction; several volumes of writings for children, notably A Child's Bestiary (1977) and The King of the Hummingbirds and Other Tales for Children (1977); and three opera libretti, published as Three Libretti (1979). At the time of his death in a motorcycle accident Gardner was a Professor of English at the State University of New York at Binghamton. His fiction has received wide critical attention: among the better studies are David Cowart, Arches and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner (1983) and Dean McWilliams, John Gardner (1990).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Furness Biography to Robert Murray Gilchrist Biography