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William McPherson (writer)

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William McPherson
Born(1933-03-16)March 16, 1933
Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, U.S.
DiedMarch 28, 2017(2017-03-28) (aged 84)
Washington, DC, U.S.
OccupationWriter, journalist
EducationUniversity of Michigan
Michigan State University
George Washington University
GenreJournalism, non-fiction, fiction

William McPherson (March 16, 1933 – March 28, 2017) was an American writer and journalist. He is the author of two novels, Testing the Current and To the Sargasso Sea, and many articles, essays, and book reviews. McPherson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 1977.[1]


William Alexander McPherson was born in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, the third son of Harold Agnew McPherson, an executive of Union Carbide Corporation, and of his wife Ruth Brubaker.[2] He lived in Washington, D.C., and New York City for most of his life and spent several years in Romania. He attended the University of Michigan (1951–1955), Michigan State University (1956–1958) and George Washington University (1960–1962) without taking a degree. In 1959, he married Elizabeth Mosher, with whom he had a daughter, Jane, in 1963. In 1979, McPherson and Mosher divorced.


In 1958, McPherson began his professional career as a copy boy for the Washington Post, becoming a staff writer a few months later. He remained at the Post until 1966, when he became a senior editor at William Morrow & Company in New York. Three years later, at the behest of Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, McPherson returned to the Post, first as daily book editor and then, when the Sunday Book World came under the sole ownership of the Washington Post, as Book World's first editor, a post he held from 1972 to 1978. He later moved to the editorial page where he wrote a weekly op-ed column, selected the letters to the editor, and was a member of the editorial board.[2] Before and after leaving the Post in 1987, he worked as a freelance writer and journalist, taught writing and criticism at American University in Washington, D.C., and lectured at various colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, including Columbia University, the University of Oklahoma, and the Radcliffe Publishing Course.[3]

McPherson's first novel, Testing the Current, was published in 1984 to wide acclaim. Russell Banks wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "William McPherson's first novel is an extraordinarily intelligent, powerful and, I believe, permanent contribution to the literature of family, childhood and memory."[4] The New York Times named Testing the Current one of 1984's "Notable Books of the Year".[5] McPherson's second novel, To the Sargasso Sea, explores the adult life of the first novel's child protagonist.[6] New York Review Books Classics republished Testing the Current in January 2013.[7]

McPherson moved to Romania shortly after the execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and spent most of the next seven years exploring and writing about Romania for Granta, the Wilson Quarterly, the Washington Post, and Slate. McPherson also contributed to The New Republic, The Nation, The New Yorker, the International Herald Tribune, and Life, among other periodicals.

In 2014, McPherson wrote about how he was living in relative poverty,[8] after spending his inheritances and losing money in the stock market.[9]

McPherson died March 28, 2017, at a hospice center in Washington of complications from congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Testing the Current. Simon & Schuster. 1984. ISBN 0-671-25251-8.;
  • Testing the Current. New York Review Books Classics. 2012. ISBN 978-0-671-25251-9.
  • To the Sargasso Sea. Simon & Schuster. 1987. ISBN 978-0-671-66030-7.
  • The Best of Granta Reportage (Bill Buford, editor, 1993)
  • The Best of Granta (Ian Jack, editor, 1998)

Work Online[edit]


  1. ^ "Pulitzer Prize for Criticism". www.nndb.com. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Clarage, Elizabeth C. (1999). Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press. ISBN 1-57356-111-8.
  3. ^ "Profile page on Harvard". Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  4. ^ "End of the Age of Innocence". The New York Times. March 18, 1984.
  5. ^ "Notable Books of the Year". The New York Times. December 2, 1984.
  6. ^ "Drama As Art". Chicago Tribune. May 17, 1987.
  7. ^ New York Review of Books
  8. ^ Goldberg, Eleanor (December 29, 2014). "Struggling Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Represents Face of Poverty in the U.S." The Huffington Post.
  9. ^ William McPherson, Falling, The Hedgehog Review, vol. 16, no 3 (Fall 2014).

External links[edit]