James Alan McPherson

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James Alan McPherson
Born (1943-09-16)September 16, 1943
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Died July 27, 2016(2016-07-27) (aged 72)
Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.
Nationality American
Notable works Elbow Room

James Alan McPherson (September 16, 1943 – July 27, 2016) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning[1] American short story writer and essayist. He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship[2] and a MacArthur Fellowship.[3] At the time of his death, McPherson was a member of the permanent faculty and professor emeritus of fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia. He attended Morgan State University from 1963 to 1964 before receiving his undergraduate degree in history and English from Morris Brown College in 1965.[5] He then received a LL.B. from Harvard Law School (where he partially financed his studies as a janitor) in 1968 and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1971.[5]


McPherson won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his short story collection Elbow Room, becoming the first African-American to win the Pulitzer for fiction.[5] He was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981.[3] His work has appeared in 27 journals and magazines, seven short-story anthologies, and The Best American Essays.[citation needed] In 1995 McPherson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[citation needed]

He taught English at the University of California, Santa Cruz (assistant professor; 1969-1971), the Harvard University summer school (1972), Morgan State University (assistant professor; 1975-1976) and the University of Virginia (associate professor; 1976-1981) before joining the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1981.[6][7] He was also a visiting scholar at Yale Law School (1978-1979) and a fellow at Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1997-1998).[8] He lectured in Japan with Dr. Jerald Walker at Meiji University and Chiba University.[4][5]

In 2000, John Updike selected his short story "Gold Coast" for his collection Best American Short Stories of the Century (Houghton Mifflin).[9]

In October 2011 McPherson was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Paul Engle Award from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. The Engle Award honors an individual who, like Engle, longtime director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and co-founder of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.



  • Railroad: Trains and Train People in American Culture (1976)

Story collections[edit]


  • Crabcakes (memoir) (1998)
  • A Region Not Home (essays) (2000)
  • Why I Like Country Music (1989)


McPherson died in hospice on July 27, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa, due to complications of pneumonia. He was 72.[10][11]


  1. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes | Awards". pulitzer.org. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  2. ^ "All Fellows". John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Fellows list - M". The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Writers' Workshop - the University of Iowa". University of Iowa. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d "James Alan McPherson, 71MFA Prize Work: Elbow Room; 1980 Pulitzer Prize: Fiction". University of Iowa Alumni Association. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  6. ^ http://search.marquiswhoswho.com/profile/100002514511
  7. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=uCIVCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA369&dq=james+alan+mcpherson+harvard&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwivspTw15bOAhXBcz4KHd92B1gQ6AEIKDAC#v=onepage&q=james%20alan%20mcpherson%20harvard&f=false
  8. ^ http://search.marquiswhoswho.com/profile/100002514511
  9. ^ "The Best American Short Stories of the Century". Powells.com. Powells Books. 
  10. ^ Roberts, Sam (July 27, 2016). "James Alan McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writer, Dies at 72". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-28. 
  11. ^ "Writer James Alan McPherson, Winner Of Pulitzer, MacArthur And Guggenheim, Dies At 72". www.npr.org. NPR. July 27, 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-28.