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Jack Matthews (author)

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Jack Matthews
BornJohn Harold Matthews
(1925-07-22)July 22, 1925
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
DiedNovember 28, 2013(2013-11-28) (aged 88)
EducationOhio State University (BA)
Genrephilosophical fiction, historical fiction
Notable worksHanger Stout Awake (novel), Sassafras (novel), Gambler's Nephew (Novel), Crazy Women (Short Stories)

Jack Matthews (July 22, 1925 – November 28, 2013) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright and former professor. He published 7 novels, 11 story collections, a novella, and 8 volumes of essays. He was an avid book collector, and many of his book finds served as a basis for his essays and the historical topics he explored in his fiction. His 1972 novel The Charisma Campaigns was nominated by Walker Percy for the National Book Award.[1] He has often made 19th century America and the Civil War period the setting for his fiction, starting with his 1981 novel Sassafras and most recently with the 2011 novel Gambler's Nephew (which tells the story of how an abolitionist accidentally kills an escaped slave) and a 2015 story collection Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War. His plays have been performed at multiple theaters around the country.



Jack Matthews (born John Harold Matthews) was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1925. According to a 2009 interview,[2] Matthews "had a wonderful childhood and didn’t know there was a Depression. My father was an attorney, born on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, who studied law under a country judge, passed the bar and eventually had his own law firm in Columbus." He served with the Coast Guard between 1943-5, working as "a radioman on the Coast Guard Cutter Maclaine in the North Pacific, on anti-submarine patrol out of Sitka & Juneau. It was wonderful, for this was the very sea that Wolf Larsen (a character from the [Sea-Wolf]) sailed in." According to a biographical profile written by critic Stanley Lindberg,[citation needed] Matthews studied at the Ohio State University in Columbus between 1945-9 and 1952-4 where he received a B.A. in classics and English in 1949; in 1954 he received his M.A. in English from the same university. After college,[3] Matthews worked at various jobs that “gave me an excuse to knock on doors.” That included selling things door to door as a Fuller Brush Man and selling encyclopedias. For a short time he worked as a private detective and later as a produce warehouseman. While he and wife were raising two daughters, he worked 9 years with the Post Office on afternoons and nights; that gave him time to write and attend graduate classes in the morning. During the 1950s he worked as a post office clerk, and from 1959, he started teaching at various colleges. He was associate professor, 1959–62, and professor of English, 1962–64, Urbana College, Ohio; associate professor, 1964–70, Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, Wichita State University, Kansas, 1970-71. From 1971-77, he was professor of English and since 1978 Distinguished Professor, Ohio University, Athens.

Matthews was married for over 60 years to his wife Barbara. With Barbara, he had three children - John Harold III, Barbara Ellen (Barbiel), and Cynthia Ann.[4] His daughter Barbiel Matthews-Saunders did cover and artwork for many of his fiction titles — including all of his later ebooks.

Matthews died on November 28, 2013, at his home in Athens, Ohio.[5]

Later publications


After teaching creative writing and critical approaches to fiction and drama over a period of four decades at Ohio University, Matthews retired, taught writing classes part-time, and devoted his energies to writing novels and stories. In 2011, he published A Worker's Writebook (a 75,000 word fiction writing guide which he handed out to his students) and Gambler's Nephew (an historically accurate story about how an accidental killing of a slave in 19th century United States affected various families and communities). Claire Blechman, reviewing the book for Ploughshares[6] said, "For a story focused on morality and rife with violence, The Gambler’s Nephew is surprisingly light-hearted. Many contemporary authors try to make you writhe under the weight of heavy philosophical issues, but Matthews would rather you shake your head and give a small smile."

In March 2012, an early work, Hanger Stout, Awake!, was republished as an ebook. According to the ebook publisher's information,[7] "Time Magazine described it as a 'gentle first novel told with a fine ear for adolescent patois,' and National Book Award winning poet William Stafford named this book as one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.[8] Southern novelist Eudora Welty said about the book: 'I like it, and warmly admire his sturdy subject and delicately restrained treatment. It seemed to me blessed with honesty, clarity, directness, proportion and a lovely humor. . . .' The novella tells the story of Clyde Stout, a high school graduate in a small Ohio town who discovers he has a new talent: the ability to hang from a metal bar longer than anybody.

In Spring 2013, Personville Press published an audio performance of Interview with the Sphinx and an ebook version of the script. The ebook of the script contained a slightly revised version of the original 1992 script (which is one act) and an expanded 2012 version (which is two acts). According to the play's introduction (reprinted on the author's site),[9] the original script called for two characters (the Interviewer and the Sphinx) while the expanded version calls for two additional characters (Sigmund Freud and Florence Nightingale) who serve as a kind of Greek chorus. In a video interview,[9] Matthews said he got the original idea for the play after writing an article in the 1960s for the CEA Critic arguing that Oedipus did not actually solve the riddle of the Sphinx. He said in the video, "The play itself isn't exactly about that; it's about the Sphinx herself as a kind of force of nature, as a demonic character and as an utterly fascinating woman."

The author's website[10] announced in early 2013 that Personville Press would be publishing four new short story collections by Matthews. The last short story collection was published in 1993. The first collection (titled Soldier Boys and published in April 2016) "depicts how ordinary Civil War soldiers deal with the rigors of war and have to confront life-and-death questions". According to the book's preface,[11] "Soldier Boys operates on a more metaphysical level – beyond the Civil War or even war itself. These stories come from the head of a retired author in his 70s who had already been writing stories most of his life." The second collection of flash fiction (titled Abruptions: 3 Minute Tales to Awaken the Mind) was published in October, 2017. Matthews wrote stories for this volume during his last decade of life and published several of the "abruptions" under the pseudonym Matt Hughes. According to Personville Press (the book's publisher),[12] these abruptions (or "very short stories that end abruptly") are "poetic and fable-like tales about quirky people from small towns -- told with simple language, flashes of humor and a sage's sense of wonder and irony". The third collection,[13]Second Death of Edgar Allan Poe and other Stories contained "down-to-earth yarns: gently satirical and reminiscent of John Cheever’s fiction. Most are like pleasant strolls through Midwestern neighborhoods, glimpsing random people at backyard parties, cafes and parking lots." The fourth collection, Boxes of Time was published in January 2024.[14] It consists of realistic stories published between 1965 and 1980; they deal with "messy emotions, troubled families and damaged personalities."

In June 2015, Nine Point Publishing announced[15] the publication of another novel, Schopenhauer's Will, which for a long time could not find a publisher in the US but was first translated into Czech and published in Europe by H & H Press. In a 2009 interview,[2] Matthews said "the book is somewhat freakish — not exactly fiction, biography or philosophy, but a mélange of all of these (with a one-act play thrown in)." The publisher describes the book's tone as "ironic, frolicsome and light-hearted, designed to serve in counterpoint to the familiar stereotype of Schopenhauer as a relentlessly grim pessimist."


  • Florence Roberts Head award, 1967
  • Quill award (Massachusetts Review, Amherst), 1967;
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 1974
  • Ohio Arts Council Grants (including a $50,000 Major Artist Award for 1989-90)
  • Ohio University Research Foundation Grants
  • Stories in The Best American Short Stories [various years], Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards [various years], and other anthologies
  • The Sherwood Anderson Award
  • Nomination for the NBA Fiction Award in 1972 for The Charisma Campaigns
  • Honorary Paul Harris Fellowship Award in 2013 awarded for service to Athens Rotary Club

Interviews and multimedia

  • "MP3 Audio of a 1984 interview with Donald Swaim". Wired for Books Radio. 1984. Archived from the original on April 2, 2012.. On the Wired for Books page for Jack Matthews, there is also an audio recording in Real Audio format of an extended discussion about Ambrose Bierce and a live reading by Jack Matthews of his story "A Girl in the Window."
  • "Audio recording of "A Woman of Properties" short story by Jack Matthews. Read by Miette Elms". Miette’s Bedtime Podcast. January 2011.(mp3). 42 minutes. Archived version on archive.org .
  • 2009 Interview with Jack Matthews. With Robert Nagle. Originally published on Teleread.org.[16]
  • 2010 Interview with Jack Matthews (Audio). 46 minutes. With Robert Nagle. Matthews talks about his latest book projects such as Gambler's Nephew, Abruptions, Schopenhauer's Will and the art of fiction. Archived version on archive.org




  1. ^ Eric Pace (May 6, 1973). "National Book Award in Fiction: A Curious Case". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b Robert Nagle (August 27, 2010). "2009 Interview with Jack Matthews". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  3. ^ Robert Nagle (December 6, 2013). "RIP Ohio Author Jack Matthews (1925-2013): Book Collecting Enthusiast and Author". Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  4. ^ "WOSU Presents Ohioana Authors - Jack Matthews". ohioana-authors.org.
  5. ^ "John H. Matthews (obituary)". Legacy.com. Retrieved January 8, 2022.
  6. ^ Claire Blechman (July 26, 2011). "Gambler's Nephew book review in Ploughshares". Archived from the original on December 10, 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  7. ^ Robert Nagle (December 2, 2011). "Ebook: Hanger Stout, Awake! (Novel by Jack Matthews) - Ghostly Populations". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  8. ^ "Antaeus Magazine's Neglected Books of the 20th Century". Neglected Books. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  9. ^ a b Robert Nagle (March 10, 2013). "New Audio Play by Jack Matthews on Sale for $1.99 in March - Ghostly Populations". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  10. ^ Robert Nagle (March 4, 2013). "Coming Soon: Soldier Boys: A Short Story Collection by Jack Matthews". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  11. ^ Robert Nagle (April 6, 2016). "Preface to "Soldier Boys" Short Story Ebook Collection". Ghostly Populations.com (Author's Website). Personville Press. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  12. ^ Robert Nagle (July 15, 2017). "Story Collection: Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  13. ^ Nagle, Robert (16 September 2021). "Ebook Announcement: The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories by Jack Matthews". Ghostlypopulations.com. Personville Press. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
  14. ^ Nagle, Robert. "Ebook Announcement: Boxes of Time (Stories) by Jack Matthews". ghostlypopulations.com. Retrieved 16 July 2023.
  15. ^ SlickFish Studios, LLC. "Nine Point Publishing - ninepointpublishing.com - Editions - Schopenhauer's Will". ninepointpublishing.com. Archived from the original on January 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "Interview with Jack Matthews 1 (Author and his Craft)". TeleRead. February 26, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2019.