Walter Tevis

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Walter Tevis
Walter and Jamie Tevis in 1960
Walter and Jamie Tevis in 1960
BornFebruary 28, 1928
San Francisco, California, United States
DiedAugust 9, 1984(1984-08-09) (aged 56)
New York City, New York, United States
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
GenreFiction, science fiction
SpouseEleanora Tevis
ChildrenWilliam Tevis, Julie Tevis[1]
Official website at the Wayback Machine (archived 2016-05-30)

Walter Stone Tevis (February 28, 1928 – August 9, 1984[2]) 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.

Life and career[edit]

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 an 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 Jamie Griggs in 1957 and they remained together for two decades.[3]

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.[4] He died there of lung cancer in 1984 and is buried in Richmond, Kentucky.


Short stories[edit]

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.[5]

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.

Tevis also wrote The Steps of the Sun (1983), The Queen's Gambit (1983) and The Color of Money (1984), a sequel to The Hustler. His short stories were collected in Far from Home in 1981.

Film adaptations[edit]

Three of Tevis' six novels were the basis of major motion pictures. The Hustler, directed by Robert Rossen, and The Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese, 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.[6] 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.[7]



  • The Hustler. Harper & Row. 1959.
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth. Gold Medal Books. 1963. Reprint: Del Rey Impact, 1999.
  • Mockingbird. 1980. Reprint: Del Rey Impact, 1999.
  • The Steps of the Sun. 1983.
  • The Queen's Gambit. 1983.
  • The Color of Money. 1984.

Short fiction[edit]

  • Far from Home, Doubleday, 1981
List of stories
  • "The Best in the Country", Esquire, November 1954.
  • "The Big Hustle", Collier's, August 5, 1955.
  • "Misleading Lady", The American Magazine, October 1955.
  • "Mother of the Artist", Everywoman's, 1955.[citation needed]
  • "The Man from Chicago", Bluebook, January 1956.
  • "The Stubbornest Man", Saturday Evening Post, January 19, 1957.
  • "The Hustler", (original title: "The Actors") Playboy
  • "Operation Gold Brick" (original title: "The Goldbrick"), If, June, 1957.
  • "The Ifth of Oofth", Galaxy, April 1957
  • "Big Bounce", Galaxy, February 1958.
  • "Sucker's Game", Redbook, August 1958.
  • "First Love", Redbook, August 1958.
  • "Far From Home", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1958.
  • "Alien Love" (original title: "The Man from Budapest") Cosmopolitan, January 1959. Adapted as a teleplay for NBC's The Loretta Young Show, season 7, episode 12, aired December 13, 1959.
  • "A Short Ride in the Dark", Toronto Star Weekly Magazine, April 4, 1959.
  • "Gentle Is the Gunman" Saturday Evening Post, August 13, 1960.
  • "The Other End of the Line", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1961.
  • "The Machine That Hustled Pool", Nugget, February 1961.
  • "The Scholar's Disciple", College English, October 1969.
  • "The King Is Dead", Playboy, September 1973.
  • "Rent Control", Omni, October 1979.
  • "The Apotheosis of Myra", Playboy, July 1980.
  • "Echo" The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1980.
  • "Out of Luck", Omni, November 1980.
  • "Sitting in Limbo", Far from Home, 1981.
  • "Daddy", Far from Home, 1981.
  • "A Visit from Mother", Far from Home, 1981.

Critical studies and reviews of Tevis' work[edit]


  1. ^ Mitgang, Herbert (August 11, 1984). "WALTER TEVIS, 56, A SCREENWRITER". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Overview of Walter Tevis Collection" (PDF). Ohio University: Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections.
  3. ^ Berkley, June Langford (Fall 2001), "Remembering Walter Tevis: Finding the Stories that Must Be Told", Ohioana Quarterly, The Ohio legacy, Ohioana library, …he told the book editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1980 after he had sought treatment for his alcoholism, divorced, resigned from the Ohio University faculty, and moved to Manhattan where he was writing again.
  4. ^ Berkley 2001.
  5. ^ Sallis, James (May 16, 2004). "A life, and an oeuvre, plagued by shadows". The Boston Globe.
  6. ^ Tigchelaar, Jeff (August 14, 2006). "After some people are gone, you really start to appreciate them". The Athens News.
  7. ^ Mayes, Ian (March 17, 2001). "Cue jumping". The Guardian.

External links[edit]