Alice Adams (writer)

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Alice Adams in 1997

Alice Adams (August 14, 1926 – May 27, 1999)[1] was an American novelist, short story writer, and university professor.

Alice Adams was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and attended Radcliffe College, graduating in 1946. She married Mark Linenthal, with whom she lived in Paris for one year, followed by a move to Palo Alto where he attended Stanford University. Their only child, artist Peter Linenthal, was born in 1951. During the early 1950s, a psychiatrist told her she should stay married but stop writing;[2] she ignored that advice and finally sold her short story, Winter Rain, to Charm magazine. Soon after that her marriage broke up, and she spent many years as a single mother, working as a secretary. Her first novel was, Careless Love (1966); in 1969 she began publishing stories in The New Yorker and received growing recognition. Her domestic partner from 1965-1987 was interior designer Robert McNie; she enjoyed close friendships with authors Max Steele, Ella Leffland, and Diane Johnson, and editors Frances Kiernan, William Abrahams, and Victoria Wilson. She wrote eleven novels, including the bestseller Superior Women, but is best known and most admired for her short stories, collected in Beautiful Girl (1979), To See You Again (1982), Return Trips (1985), After You've Gone (1989), and The Last Lovely City (1999), as well a in the posthumous selection called The Stories of Alice Adams (2002).

Adams's place in late-twentieth-century American literature has been earned, writes Christine C. Ferguson, "not only by the skill and deftness of her prose, but also by her challenge to hackneyed dismissal of love's redemptive possibilities. She presents a world where the potential for smart and independent women to have their cake and eat it, too, to enjoy professional and romantic success, stubbornly persists even if not often realized. No romanticist, Adams never flinches from describing all the vagaries and disappointments that afflict sexual and platonic relationships, but neither does she ever permit these descriptions to produce a sense of crushing pessimism."[3] She received numerous awards, including the O. Henry Lifetime Achievement Award and Best American Short Stories Award.[1]

She was a visiting writer at Stanford University, the University of California, Davis, and the University of California at Berkeley.[4]

Adams sometimes followed a pattern she called ABDCE in outlining a short story, which she described to her friend Anne Lamott. "The letters stand for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw [the reader] in, make us want to know more. Background is where you ... see and know who these people are, how they've come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the drama, the actions, the tension – will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?"[5]

Adams died at home in San Francisco, California, in 1999. She is survived by her son, artist Peter Linenthal. [1]


  • Careless Love (1966)
  • Families and Survivors (1975)
  • Listening to Billie (1978)
  • Beautiful Girl (short stories) (1979)
  • Rich Rewards (1980)
  • To See You Again (short stories) (1982)
  • Molly's Dog (1983)
  • Superior Women (1984)
  • Return Trips (short stories) (1985)
  • Roses, Rhododendron: Two Flowers, Two Friends (1987)
  • Second Chances (1988)
  • After You've Gone (short stories) (1989)
  • Mexico: Some Travels and Some Travelers There, introduction by Jan Morris (1990)
  • Caroline's Daughters (1991)
  • Almost Perfect (1993)
  • A Southern Exposure (1995)
  • Medicine Men (1997)
  • The Last Lovely City (short stories) (1999)
  • After the War (2000)
  • The Stories of Alice Adams (2002)


  1. ^ a b c Woo, Elaine (May 29, 1999). "Alice Adams; Novelist, Short-Story Writer (obituary)". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  2. ^ The Lesson unpublished typescript, Alice Adams Papers, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.
  3. ^ Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol 234. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.
  4. ^ Herman, Barbara A. (2006). Flora, Joseph M.; Vogel, Amber; Giemza, Bryan A., eds. Alice Adams (1926–1999). Louisiana State University Press. p. 1. Retrieved June 21, 2011. 
  5. ^ Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor: NY, 1995. p.62.