Edwin O'Connor

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Edwin O'Connor
Born July 29, 1918 (1918-07-29)
Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Died March 23, 1968 (1968-03-24) (aged 49)
Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation Novelist, radio personality, journalist
Nationality American

Edwin O'Connor (July 29, 1918 – March 23, 1968) was an American radio personality, journalist, and novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1962 for The Edge of Sadness (1961). His novels focused on the Irish-American experience and often dealt with the lives of politicians and priests.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

O'Connor was born to a medical doctor in Providence, Rhode Island, but was raised in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He was an alumnus of La Salle Academy and the University of Notre Dame. After graduation, he served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II.[3] In 1946 he began working as a free lance author, selling his stories and reports to numerous magazines, including Atlantic Monthly.

Writing career[edit]

In the 1950s O'Connor began a career as a television critic for two Boston newspapers, a profession he would follow for the rest of his life. He also wrote his first novel, The Oracle (1951). Soon afterward, he wrote the novel for which he is most remembered, The Last Hurrah (1956). The novel concerns a Boston Irish politician, Frank Skeffington, as seen through the eyes of a nephew whom he invites to accompany him on what turns out to be an unsuccessful reelection campaign. Skeffington has a gentlemanly manner, lacing his talk with literary quotations. He is slightly corrupt, but delivers service to his constituents. He is an expert at juggling and balancing the claims of the various Boston-area ethnic groups. But his time has passed, and he loses the election. While not a roman à clef, there are points of similarity between Skeffington and Boston mayor James Michael Curley. This novel was adapted for film in 1958, and O'Connor wrote the screenplay himself. As Charles Fanning notes, "The windfall profits from The Last Hurrah made O'Connor for the first time financially secure."[4]

O'Connor won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1962[5] for his next novel, The Edge of Sadness (Little, Brown, 1961). It is the story of a middle-aged priest in an unnamed New England port city with a cathedral (seat of a bishop), probably modeled on Providence, his birthplace. I Was Dancing (1964) is a novel about an aging vaudevillian who tries to reconnect with his son after twenty years of casual neglect. His last novel, All in the Family, appeared in 1966. (It has no connection at all to the later television series of the same name). It is a profile of a Massachusetts family with a driving father who has political ambitions for his sons. As with The Last Hurrah, it is not a roman à clef but the clan is certainly reminiscent of the Kennedy family.

O'Connor died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1968.


Published posthumously in 1970 was The Best and the Last of Edwin O'Connor, which included excerpts from his published novels, fragments of unpublished works, articles written by him, and a lecture transcript. The book's introduction was written by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

He is remembered for coining "the last hurrah" and bringing it into the vernacular. The Omni Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts features a bar named "The Last Hurrah".


  • The Oracle (Harper, 1951)
  • The Last Hurrah (Little, Brown, 1956)
  • Benjy: A Ferocious Fairy Tale (Little, Brown, 1957), illustrated by Ati Forberg
  • The Last Hurrah (film script) (1958)
  • The Edge of Sadness (Little, Brown, 1961)
  • I Was Dancing (Little, Brown, 1964)
  • All in the Family (Little, Brown, 1966)
  • The Best and the Last of Edwin O'Connor (Little, Brown, 1970) — selections and fragments with contributions by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; Edmund Wilson; John V. Kelleher[6]
  • Benjy: A Ferocious Fairy Tale (Godine, 1994), illus. Catharine O'Neill


  1. ^ Fanning, Charles (1990, 2000). The Irish Voice in America: 250 Years of Irish-American Fiction. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 316. 
  2. ^ (24 March 1968). Prize Winning Author Edwin O'Connor Dies, Oxnard Press-Courier (Associated Press story)
  3. ^ Fanning, Charles (1990, 2000). The Irish Voice in America: 250 Years of Irish-American Fiction. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 317. 
  4. ^ Fanning, Charles (1990, 2000). The Irish Voice in America: 250 Years of Irish-American Fiction. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 318. 
  5. ^ "Fiction". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  6. ^ "The best and the last of Edwin O'Connor". Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2013-11-11.

Further reading[edit]

  • Duffy, Charles F. (2003). A Family of His Own: A Life of Edwin O'Connor. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 0-8132-1337-1.
  • O'Connell, Shaun (1990). Imagining Boston: A Literary Landscape. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-5102-0.
  • Rank, Hugh (1974). Edwin O'Connor. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-8057-0555-4.

External links[edit]