Gail Godwin

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Gail Godwin
Born Birmingham, Alabama
Alma mater University of Iowa

Gail Kathleen Godwin (born June 18, 1937)[1] is an American novelist and short story writer. She has published one non-fiction work, two collections of short stories, thirteen novels, three of which were finalists for the National Book Award and five of which have made the New York Times Bestseller List. She has also published two volumes of her journals under the title, The Making of a Writer.

She worked briefly as a reporter for the Miami Herald, and then traveled to Europe and worked for the U.S. Travel Service at the U.S. Embassy in London. She returned to the U.S. after six years, and attended the University of Iowa, earning her M.A. (1968) from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and PhD (1971) in English Literature. While at the University of Iowa, she signed a contract with Harper & Row for her first novel, The Perfectionists.

Godwin's body of work has garnered many honors, including three times being named a National Book Award finalist, a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.


Gail Godwin was born June 18, 1937. She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, later attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She lives in Woodstock, New York.

Godwin’s first few novels, published in the early 1970s, explored the worlds of women negotiating restrictive roles. The Odd Woman (1974) was a National Book Award finalist, as was her fourth novel, Violet Clay (1978), in which she modernized the Gothic novel and explored such themes as villainy and suicide.

A Mother and Two Daughters (1982) encompassed a community, Mountain City, based on her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Voted a National Book Award finalist, it also became Godwin’s first best-seller. Between it and her next four best-sellers, Godwin interposed Mr. Bedford and the Muses (1983), her second short story collection after Dream Children (1976).

Dream Children had been created at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she studied with Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Coover. It exhibits her early interest in allegory made real on a psychological level. The Iowa years are also described in her edited journals, The Making of a Writer, Journals, 1963-1969 (2010). A previous volume, The Making of a Writer, Journals, 1961-1963 (2006), presents her years in Europe after a decision to become a writer. The novella, “Mr. Bedford,” derives from her time in London.

“Last night I dreamed of Ursula DeVane", begins Godwin’s sixth novel, The Finishing School (1984), which employs a first person reverie, and concerns the effect of a powerful personality on a developing one. Her next novel, A Southern Family, returns to Mountain City, but is darker than A Mother and Two Daughters, as it involves a murder-suicide that sends shock waves and melancholy through a family.

In Father Melancholy’s Daughter (1991), the daughter of the title navigates her relationships with her father, an Episcopal minister, and with a theatrical auteur. Theology is embraced in Evensong, her 1999 sequel to Father Melancholy’s Daughter, and in her 2010 novel, Unfinished Desires. It also informs her non-fiction book, Heart: A Natural History of the Heart-Filled Life (2001), illustrated by stories from her life and her reading.

Godwin's ninth novel, The Good Husband (1994), emulates Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier by telling a story through four related characters. This book did not reach the best-seller list. Evensong, her tenth novel, did. Then she engaged in another literary experiment, Evenings at Five (2003), a novella that explored, through stream-of-consciousness, the presence that follows the death of a long-term companion. It is based on her relationship with composer Robert Starer, with whom she collaborated on nine libretti. Regarding Evenings at Five, Godwin said she wanted “to write a different kind of ghost story".

For her 12th novel, Queen of the Underworld, Godwin fashioned a Bildungsroman, derived from her years as a Miami Herald reporter, from 1959 to 1960, where she had experience with the Cuban émigré community. Unfinished Desires (2010) was set at a girls' school run by nuns. Concerned with girls in adolescence and their elders, who bequeath their deep-set issues, the novel attempts to make the connection between religious devotion and artistic seriousness.



  1. ^ Reference Guide to American Literature, Third Edition, ed. by D. K. Kirkpatrick, 1994

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