Lydia Davis

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This article is about the author. For the character on Revenge, see List of Revenge characters#Recurring cast.
Lydia Davis
Davis lydia download 1.jpg
Born (1947-07-15) July 15, 1947 (age 68)
Northampton, Massachusetts, US
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Alma mater Barnard College
Period 1976–present
Genre Short story, novel, essay
Spouse Paul Auster (1974–1977; divorced; 1 child)
Alan Cote

Lydia Davis (born July 15, 1947) is an American writer noted for her short stories. Davis is also a novelist, essayist, and translator from French and other languages, and has produced several new translations of French literary classics, including Proust's Swann’s Way and Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

Early life and education[edit]

Davis was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, on July 15, 1947.[1] 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.[2] Davis initially studied music—first piano, then violin—which was her first love. 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."[3] She studied at Barnard College, where she mostly wrote poetry.[4]

In 1974 Davis married Paul Auster, with whom she had a son named Daniel.[2] Auster and Davis later divorced and Davis is now married to the artist Alan Cote,[5] with whom she has another son, Theo Cote. She is a professor of creative writing at the University at Albany, SUNY,[5] and was a Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University in 2012.[6]


Davis has published six collections of short stories, 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: Stories (2013). The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009) contains all her stories up to 2008.

Davis' stories are acclaimed for their brevity and humour. Many are only one or two sentences. Davis has compared these shorter stories to skyscrapers in the sense that they are surrounded by an imposing blank expanse.[7] Some of her stories are considered poetry or somewhere between philosophy, poetry and short story. 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.

Davis has also translated Proust, Flaubert, Blanchot, Foucault, Michel Leiris, Pierre Jean Jouve and other French writers,[1] as well as 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."[8] The author Carmela Ciuraru has written of Davis' stories: "Anyone hung up on the conventional (and often predictable) beginning-middle-end narrative format may be disappointed by the wild peregrinations found here. Yet these stories are endearing and rich in their own way, and can be counted on without exception to offer the element of surprise."[9]

In October 2003 Davis received a MacArthur Fellowship.[10] She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.[11] Davis was a distinguished speaker at the 2004 &NOW Festival at the University of Notre Dame.[12]

Davis was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize on 22 May 2013.[13] 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 that "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."[14] Davis won £60,000 as part of the biennial award.[15]

She is widely considered "one of the most original minds in American fiction today."[16]


  • 1986 PEN/Hemingway Award finalist, for Break It Down[1]
  • 1988 Whiting Award for Fiction[2]
  • "St. Martin," a short story that first appeared in Grand Street, was included in The Best American Short Stories 1997.
  • 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1998 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction[1]
  • 1999 Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for fiction and translation.[10]
  • "Betrayal," a short-short story that first appeared in Hambone, was included in The Best American Poetry 1999
  • "A Mown Lawn," a short-short-story that first appeared in McSweeney's, was included in The Best American Poetry 2001
  • 2003 MacArthur Fellows Program[10]
  • 2007 National Book Award Fiction finalist, for Varieties of Disturbance: Stories[17]
  • "Men," a short-short story that first appeared in 32 Poems, was included in The Best American Poetry 2008
  • 2013 American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Award of Merit Medal[18]
  • 2013 Philolexian Society Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement
  • 2013 Man Booker International Prize[13]

Selected works[edit]



  • Georges Simenon (1979). Aboard the Aquitaine (Simenon African Trio). Translators Paul Auster and Lydia Davis. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-103955-0. 
  • Maurice Blanchot (1981). P. Adams Sitney, ed. The Gaze of Orpheus, and Other Literary Essays. Translator Lydia Davis. Station Hill Press. ISBN 978-0930794378. 
  • Marcel Proust (2004). Lydia Davis, Christopher Prendergast, eds. Swann's Way. Translator Lydia Davis. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-243796-4. 
  • Vivant Denon (2009). Peter Brooks, ed. No Tomorrow. Translator Lydia Davis. New York Review of Books. ISBN 978-1-59017-326-8. 
  • Gustave Flaubert (2010). Lydia Davis, ed. Madame Bovary. Translator Lydia Davis. Viking Adult. ISBN 978-0-670-02207-6. 


  1. ^ a b c d e "Internationales literaturfestival Berlin – Lydia Davis". Internationales literaturfestival Berlin. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  2. ^ a b c Knight, Christopher J. (1999). "An Interview with Lydia Davis". Contemporary Literature 40 (4): 525–551. doi:10.2307/1208793. 
  3. ^ "Lydia Davis: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". 032c. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ "LYDIA DAVIS: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ "Lydia Davis is Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence". New York University. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  7. ^ "LYDIA DAVIS: Storytelling, a Strange Impulse". Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  8. ^ Teicher, Craig Morgan (October 11, 2009). "Collected Stories of Lydia Davis". The Plain Dealer. 
  9. ^ Ciuraru, Carmela (November 1, 2009). "'The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis'". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  10. ^ a b c "Interview with LYDIA DAVIS". The Believer. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "&Now Program Schedule". &Now 2004. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Stock, Jon (2013-05-22). "Man Booker International Prize 2013: Lydia Davis wins". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-05-22. 
  14. ^ "Lydia Davis wins the Man Booker International Prize 2013". Man Brooker Prize. 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2013-05-22. 
  15. ^ "Man Booker International prize goes to Lydia Davis". BBC News. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Johnston, Bret Anthony. "2007 National Book Award Fiction Finalist Interview With Lydia Davis". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  18. ^ "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. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 

External links[edit]