Lydia Davis

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Lydia Davis
Davis at Kelly Writers House in 2017
Davis at Kelly Writers House in 2017
Born (1947-07-15) July 15, 1947 (age 75)
Northampton, Massachusetts, US
Alma materBarnard College
GenreShort story, novel, essay
(m. 1974; div. 1977)

Alan Cote
RelativesRobert Gorham Davis (father)
Hope Hale Davis (mother)
Claudia Cockburn (half-sister)

Lydia Davis (born July 15, 1947) is an American short story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator from French and other languages, who often writes short (one or two pages long) short stories.[1][2][3] Davis has produced several new translations of French literary classics, including Swann's Way by Marcel Proust and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

Early life and education[edit]

Davis was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, on July 15, 1947.[4] She is the daughter of Robert Gorham Davis, a critic and professor of English, and Hope Hale Davis, a short-story writer, teacher, and memoirist.[5] Davis initially "studied music—first piano, then violin—which was her first love."[6] On becoming a writer, Davis has said, "I was probably always headed to being a writer, even though that wasn't my first love. I guess I must have always wanted to write in some part of me or I wouldn't have done it."[7] She attended high school at The Putney School, Class of 1965. She studied at Barnard College, and at that time she mostly wrote poetry.[6]

In 1974 Davis married Paul Auster, with whom she had a son named Daniel (1977-2022).[5][8] Auster and Davis later divorced; Davis is now married to the artist Alan Cote,[9] with whom she has another son, Theo Cote. She is a professor of creative writing at the University at Albany, SUNY,[9] and was a Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University in 2012.[10]


Davis has published six collections of fiction, including The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976) and Break It Down (1986), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her most recent collections were Varieties of Disturbance, a finalist for the National Book Award published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007, and Can't and Won't (2013). The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009) contains all her fiction up to 2008.

Davis has also translated Proust, Flaubert, Blanchot, Foucault, Michel Butor, Michel Leiris, Pierre Jean Jouve and other French writers,[4] as well as Belgian novelist Conrad Detrez and the Dutch writer A.L. Snijders.

Reception and influence[edit]

Davis has been described as "the master of a literary form largely of her own invention."[11] Some of her "stories" are only one or two sentences. Davis has compared these works to skyscrapers in the sense that they are surrounded by an imposing blank expanse.[12] Michael LaPointe writing in the LA Review of Books goes so far as to say while "Lydia Davis did not invent flash fiction, ... she is so far and away its most eminent contemporary practitioner".[3] Her "distinctive voice has never been easy to fit into conventional categories", writes Kasia Boddy in the Columbia Companion to the 21st Century Short Story. Boddy writes: "Davis's parables are most successful when they examine the problems of communication between men and women, and the strategies each uses to interpret the other's words and actions."[13] Of contemporary authors, only Davis, Stuart Dybek, and Alice Fulton share the distinction of appearing in both The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Poetry series.

In October 2003, Davis received a MacArthur Fellowship.[14] She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.[15] Davis was a distinguished speaker at the 2004 &NOW Festival at the University of Notre Dame.[16] Davis was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize on 22 May 2013.[17] The official announcement of Davis' award on the Man Booker Prize website described her work as having "the brevity and precision of poetry". The judging panel chair Christopher Ricks commented, "There is vigilance to her stories, and great imaginative attention. Vigilance as how to realise things down to the very word or syllable; vigilance as to everybody's impure motives and illusions of feeling."[18] Davis won £60,000 as part of the biennial award.[19] She is widely considered "one of the most original minds in American fiction today."[20]


Selected works[edit]

  • The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories, Living Hand, 1976[4]
  • Sketches for a Life of Wassilly. Station Hill Press. 1981. ISBN 978-0-930794-45-3.
  • Story and Other Stories. The Figures. 1985. ISBN 978-0-935724-17-2.
  • Break It Down. Farrar Straus & Giroux. 1986. ISBN 0-374-11653-9.
  • The End of the Story. Farrar Straus & Giroux. 1994. ISBN 978-0-374-14831-7. (novel)
  • Almost No Memory. Farrar Straus & Giroux. 1997. ISBN 978-0-374-10281-4.
  • Samuel Johnson Is Indignant. McSweeney's. 2001. ISBN 978-0-9703355-9-3.
  • Varieties of Disturbance. Farrar Straus & Giroux. May 15, 2007. ISBN 978-0-374-28173-1.
  • Proust, Blanchot, and a Woman in Red. Center for Writers and Translators. 2007. ISBN 9780955296352.
  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2009. ISBN 978-0-374-27060-5.
  • The Cows. Sarabande Books. 2011. ISBN 9781932511932.
  • Lydia Davis: Documenta Series 078. Hatje Cantz. 2012. ISBN 9783775729277
  • Can't and Won't: Stories. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2014. ISBN 9780374118587.
  • Essays One. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2019. ISBN 9780374148850.
  • Essays Two. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2021. ISBN 9780374148867.




  1. ^ Crum, Maddie (Jun 13, 2014). "Read 15 Amazing Works Of Fiction In Less Than 30 Minutes". Retrieved Oct 21, 2019 – via Huff Post.
  2. ^ Leslie, Nathan. "That 'V' Word.". Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Ed. Masih, Tara L. Brookline, MA, USA: Rose Metal Press, 2009, 8-9; 11-14.
  3. ^ a b LaPointe, Michael (2 April 2014). "The Book Gets Fatter: Lydia Davis's "Can't and Won't"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved Oct 21, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Internationales literaturfestival Berlin – Lydia Davis". Internationales literaturfestival Berlin. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  5. ^ a b c Knight, Christopher J. (1999). "An Interview with Lydia Davis". Contemporary Literature. 40 (4): 525–551. doi:10.2307/1208793. JSTOR 1208793.
  6. ^ a b Miller, Michael. "Lydia Davis: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". 032c. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  7. ^ Miller, Michael. "Lydia Davis: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". 032c. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  8. ^ Vadukul, Alex (2022-07-27). "The Life and Death of Daniel Auster, a Son of Literary Brooklyn". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  9. ^ a b Sherwin, Adam (2013-05-23). "World's most concise short story writer Lydia Davis wins Booker International Prize 2013". Independent. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  10. ^ "Lydia Davis is Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence". New York University. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  11. ^ Teicher, Craig Morgan (October 11, 2009). "Collected Stories of Lydia Davis". The Plain Dealer. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  12. ^ "LYDIA DAVIS: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  13. ^ Boddy, Kasia (2000-01-01). "Lydia Davis (1947– )". In Gelfant, Blanche (ed.). The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Columbia University Press. pp. 219–223. doi:10.7312/gelf11098. ISBN 9780231504959. JSTOR 10.7312/gelf11098.42.
  14. ^ a b c "Interview with LYDIA DAVIS". The Believer. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  15. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  16. ^ "&Now Program Schedule". &Now 2004. University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  17. ^ a b Stock, Jon (2013-05-22). "Man Booker International Prize 2013: Lydia Davis wins". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  18. ^ "Lydia Davis wins the Man Booker International Prize 2013". Man Brooker Prize. 2013-05-22. Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  19. ^ "Man Booker International prize goes to Lydia Davis". BBC News. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  20. ^ Goodyear, Dana (Mar 10, 2014). "Long Story Short". Retrieved Oct 21, 2019 – via
  21. ^ Johnston, Bret Anthony. "2007 National Book Award Fiction Finalist Interview With Lydia Davis". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  22. ^ "The American Academy of Arts and Letters Announces 2013 Literature Award Winners and Inaugural E. B. White Award". American Academy of Arts and Letters. 2013-03-13. Archived from the original on 2015-03-13. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
  23. ^ "2020 Winner". The PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Retrieved 2020-08-25.

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