Walter and Jamie Tevis in 1960.
|Born||February 28, 1928
San Francisco, California, United States
|Died||August 8, 1984
New York City, United States
|Occupation||Novelist and short story writer|
|Genre||Fiction (general), science fiction|
Walter Stone Tevis (February 28, 1928 - August 8, 1984) was an American novelist and short story writer. Three of his six novels were adapted into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth. His books have been translated into at least 18 languages.
Tevis was born in San Francisco, California and grew up in the Sunset District, near the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park. When he was ten years old, his parents placed him in the Stanford Children's Convalescent home for a year while they returned to Kentucky, where the family had been given a grant of land in Madison County. At the age of 11, Tevis traveled across country alone on a train to rejoin his family.
Near the end of World War II, the 17-year-old Tevis served in the Pacific Theater as a Navy carpenter's mate on board the USS Hamilton. After his discharge, he graduated from Model Laboratory School in 1945 and entered the University of Kentucky, where he received B.A. (1949) and M.A. (1954) degrees in English literature and studied with A.B. Guthrie, Jr., the author of The Big Sky. While a student there, Tevis worked in a pool hall and published a story about pool written for Guthrie's class. He later attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he received a M.F.A. in creative writing in 1960.
After graduation, Tevis wrote for the Kentucky Highway Department and taught everything from the sciences and English to physical education in small-town Kentucky high schools in Science Hill, Hawesville, Irvine and Carlisle. He also taught at Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, and Southern Connecticut State University. Tevis married his first wife, Jamie Griggs, in 1957, and they remained together for 27 years.
Tevis taught English literature and creative writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio from 1965 to 1978, where he was named University Professor. A member of the Authors Guild, he spent his last years in New York City as a full-time writer. He died there of lung cancer in 1984 and is buried in Richmond, Kentucky.
Tevis wrote more than two dozen short stories for a variety of magazines. "The Big Hustle", his pool hall story for Collier's (August 5, 1955), was illustrated by Denver Gillen. It was followed by short stories in The American Magazine, Bluebook, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Galaxy Science Fiction, Playboy, Redbook and The Saturday Evening Post.
After his first novel, The Hustler was published by Harper & Row in 1959, Tevis followed it with The Man Who Fell to Earth, published in 1963. Aspects of Tevis' childhood are embedded in The Man Who Fell to Earth, as noted by James Sallis, writing in the Boston Globe
On the surface, Man is the tale of an alien who comes to earth to save his own civilization and, through adversity, distraction, and loss of faith ("I want to... But not enough"), fails. Just beneath the surface, it might be read as a parable of 1950s conventionalism and of the Cold War. One of the many other things it is, in Tevis's own words, is "a very disguised autobiography," the tale of his removal as a child from San Francisco, "the city of light," to rural Kentucky, and of the childhood illness that long confined him to bed, leaving him, once recovered, weak, fragile, and apart. It was also -- as he realized only after writing it -- about his becoming an alcoholic. Beyond that, it is, of course, a Christian parable, and a portrait of the artist. It is, finally, one of the most heartbreaking books I know, a threnody on great ambition and terrible failure, and an evocation of man's absolute, unabridgeable aloneness.
During his time teaching at Ohio University, Tevis became aware that the level of literacy among students was falling at an alarming rate. That observation gave him the idea for Mockingbird (1980), set in a grim and decaying New York City in the 25th century. The population is declining, no one can read, and robots rule over the drugged, illiterate humans. With the birth rate dropping, the end of the species seems a possibility. Tevis was a nominee for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1980 for Mockingbird. During one of his last televised interviews, he revealed that PBS once planned a production of Mockingbird as a follow-up to their 1979 film of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.
Three of Tevis' six novels were the basis of major motion pictures. The Hustler and The Color of Money (1984) followed the escapades of fictional pool hustler "Fast Eddie" Felson. The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg, was released in 1976; it was subsequently re-made in 1987 as a TV film.
In 2003, Jamie Griggs Tevis published her autobiography, My Life with the Hustler. She died August 4, 2006. His second wife, Eleanora Tevis, is the trustee of the Walter Tevis Copyright Trust, and Walter Tevis' literary output is represented by the Susan Schulman Literary Agency.
Some of these stories were reprinted in 1981 in Far from Home:
- Sallis, James (May 16, 2004). "A life, and an oeuvre, plagued by shadows". The Boston Globe.
- Tigchelaar, Jeff (August 14, 2006). "After some people are gone, you really start to appreciate them". The Athens News.
- Mayes, Ian (March 17, 2001). "Cue jumping". The Guardian.
- Official website
- Walter Tevis at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- KYLIT: Lisa English on Walter Tevis <broken link>