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William H. Gass (William Howard Gass) Biography

(1924– ), (William Howard Gass), Omensetter's Luck

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

American novelist, short-story writer, and literary critic, born in Fargo, North Dakota, educated at Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Cornell University. For three years he studied philosophy at Cornell where he attended seminars led by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein which he later referred to as ‘the most important intellectual experience of my life’. In 1950 he took up a teaching post at the College of Wooster, Ohio, where he began writing short stories and his first novel, Omensetter's Luck (1966); when the novel was published Gass was fêted as one of the most gifted of the new generation of American writers. From Wooster he subsequently taught philosophy at Purdue University, Indiana. In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968; revised edition 1981) is a collection of five short fictional pieces which remains, arguably, Gass's most important work to date. In these stories Gass experiments with a variety of rhetorical styles, notably in the extravagant languages of their otherwise naïf narrators. Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970), a collection of Gass's critical and philosophical essays, contains his important meditation on the nature of fiction, ‘The Concept of Character in Fiction’; included also are essays on Jorge Luis Borges, Gertrude Stein, Robert Coover, Vladimir Nabokov, J. F. Powers, and John Updike. Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife (1971) is a work of ‘mixed-media’ fiction; World Within the Word (1978) and Habitations of the Word: Essays (1985) are further volumes of essays. The essay On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976) show his great indebtedness to Gertrude Stein's theories of language. Though Gass has been resistant to the categorization of his writings as ‘post-modernist’ he is generally discussed in a context that includes other American post-modernist writers. William Gass (1990) by Watson L. Holloway is a critical study.

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