Chandler Brossard (July 18, 1922-August 29, 1993) was an American novelist, writer, editor, and teacher. He wrote or edited a total of 17 books. With a challenging style and outsider characters, Brossard had limited critical success in the United States. His novels were more appreciated in France and Great Britain.
His early works have been described as "landmarks of the postwar American novel." Since 2000, three of his novels have been reprinted.
Early life and education
Brossard was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and had brothers Vincent and Boyd and a sister Adele. Both their mother Therese and father were from educated Mormon elite and upper-middle-class families who were major landowners in the area. After the parents separated, Brossard's mother struggled to support the family. The family moved to Washington, D.C., where Brossard grew up. He dropped out of school at the age of 11 and was chiefly self-educated. He suffered from migraines starting in childhood.
He moved to New York and at the age of 19 was hired by The New Yorker. The editor William Shawn encouraged him to write fiction, and Brossard became a writer and editor. He wrote or edited a total of 17 books, both novels and non-fiction.
During his career, Brossard worked for several magazines: he went on to become a senior editor for Time magazine, managing editor at Coronet, executive editor for The American Mercury, and senior editor for Look magazine (1956-1967). He also wrote criticism for The Nation, Commentary, and The Guardian.
From 1969-1971, Brossard was a professor at the newly founded Old Westbury College on Long Island. He later held teaching appointments as a visiting professor, writer-in-residence, or lecturer at other universities both in the United States and abroad, including the University of Birmingham in England, The New School for Social Research in New York, Schiller College in Paris, the University of California at Riverside, and San Diego State University.
Brossard's first novel, Who Walk in Darkness (1952), portrayed the bohemian life of the late 1940s Greenwich Village; it was first published by Gallimard in France. It is sometimes called the first beat novel. Through it, Brossard became associated with early Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but he believed that he was on a different path. He said that reviewers who characterized Who Walk in Darkness as a beat novel
"totally missed getting the book. They thought it was a realistic novel, which of course it wasn't. The French critics knew better. They perceived it as the first 'new wave' novel, a nightmare presented as flat documentary."
After his first novel, Brossard received little critical recognition for his fiction in the United States, as he had "an unconventional style and characters." In his later works, the critic Steven Moore describes his narrators as seeming "possessed by a variety of voices". Brossard tended to write about characters who were outsiders: "thieves, chimney sweeps, harlots, counterculture activists..." and used the idiomatic language of mostly spoken voice. He has been described as under appreciated in his home country, as his works were considered difficult; they were better received abroad, particularly in France.
In 1971 Anatole Broyard, the book reviewer of The New York Times, wrote a scathing review of Wake Up. We're Almost There, saying of it: "Here's a book so transcendentally bad it makes us fear not only for the condition of the novel in this country, but for the country itself." Brossard responded in kind. The two men, former friends in the 1940s, had a continuing conflict.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has attributed the conflict to an earlier falling out over Brossard's "unflattering portrayal" of Broyard as the hipster character Henry Porter in his 1952 novel. Brossard described Porter as a Negro "passing" for white. Broyard was a mixed-race Creole who lived as white in New York. Having seen the galleys, he forced Brossard to change the description of Porter before the novel was published in the US.
A special 1987 issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, guest edited by Steven Moore, was devoted to a critical examination of his work. In interviews with Moore in 1985, Brossard said of his work:
"I think they can all be understood in a deeply religious sense. I think the thing that is continuous in this writing of mine is this almost blind religious innocence, of the religious innocent. Now the religious innocent is an inextricable part of religious literature throughout the ages....The believer who believes in miracles persists in going on. In none of my work has the innocent voice lost its innocence. It may be covered with blood, but it has never become a cynical, pessimistic voice."
His shorter fiction from 1971 to 1991 was collected and published posthumously by Sun Dog Press under the title Over the Rainbow? Hardly: Collected Short Seizures (2005). Brossard had chosen the title shortly before his death. The Greek-British writer Alexis Lykiard described Who Walk In Darkness (1952), The Bold Saboteurs (1953) and The Double View (1960) as "landmarks of the postwar American novel". Since 2000, Brossard's first two novels have been reprinted with new introductions by Steven Moore (see below).
Marriage and family
He married and had two daughters, Iris and Marie Brossard, with his first wife. The couple divorced.
- Who Walk in Darkness (1952; reprint 2000, with introduction by Steven Moore)
- The Bold Saboteurs (1953; reprint 2001, with introduction by Steven Moore)
- All Passion Spent (1954)
- The Wrong Turn (1954), pseudo. Daniel Harper
- The Double View (1960), pseudo. Daniel Harper
- Episode with Erika (1963)
- The Nymphets (1963), pseudo. Daniel Harper
- A Man For All Women (1966)
- I Want More of This (1967)
- Wake Up. We're Almost There (1971)
- Did Christ Make Love? (1973)
- Dirty Books for Little Folks (1978)
- Raging Joys, Sublime Violations (1981)
- A Chimney Sweep Comes Clean (1985)
- Closing the Gap(1987)
- As the Wolf Howls at My Door (1992)
- Included in The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men (1984), by Kingsley Amis, Anatole Broyard, Jack Kerouac and Chandler Brossard
- Over the Rainbow? Hardly: Collected Short Seizures (2005)
- The Insane World of Adolf Hitler (1966), biography
- The Spanish Scene (1968), vignettes
- The Scene Before You: A New Approach to American Culture (1955), 24 essays on aspects of sex and science, movies and Greenwich Village
- With Vincent Price, edited Eighteen Best Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1965).
- Alexis Lykiard, "The Bright Wonderful Surface", first published in Chandler Brossard, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1987, Vol. VII, No. 1; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Steven Moore, "Interviews: A Conversation with Chandler Brossard" (1985), Review of Contemporary Fiction, at Dalkey Archive Press; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Wolfgang Saxon, "Chandler Brossard; Prolific Writer, 71, Was Self-Educated", The New York Times, September 1, 1993; accessed August 3, 2012
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, The Gale Group, 1983, pp. 43-45.
- David Brent Johnson, "Early Hip and Hemingway: Chandler Brossard’s Who Walk in Darkness", Indiana Public Media, September 4, 2007; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Chandler Brossard Papers, Syracuse University; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr, "White Like Me", The New Yorker, June 17, 1996; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Steven Moore, Chandler Brossard, Review of Contemporary Fiction (vol. 7, no. 1, Spring 1987).
- Geoffrey Gray, "Police Sergeant Rules Squared-Circle", The New York Sun, April 8, 2005.
- "Chandler Brossard", NNDB, 2012; accessed August 3, 2012.
- Chandler Brossard Papers, Syracuse University
- Steven Moore, "Interviews: A Conversation with Chandler Brossard" (1985), Review of Contemporary Fiction, at Dalkey Archive Press
- Alexis Lykiard, "The Bright Wonderful Surface", first published in Chandler Brossard, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1987, Vol. VII, No. 1
- David Brent Johnson, "Early Hip and Hemingway: Chandler Brossard’s 'Who Walk in Darkness'", Indiana Public Media, September 4, 2007.