Wright Morris

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Wright Morris
Photograph by Jim Alinder

Wright Marion Morris (January 6, 1910 – April 25, 1998) was an American novelist, photographer, and essayist. He is known for his portrayals of the people and artifacts of the Great Plains in words and pictures, as well as for experimenting with narrative forms.

Early life[edit]

Morris was born in Central City, Nebraska; his boyhood home is on the National Register of Historic Places.[1] His mother, Grace Osborn Morris, died six days after he was born. His father, William Henry Morris, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. After Grace's death, Wright was cared for by a nanny, until his father made a trip to Omaha and returned with a young wife, Gertrude. In Will's Boy, Morris states, "Gertrude was closer to my age than to my father's".[2] Gertrude hated small-town life, but got along famously with Wright, as they shared many of the same childish tastes (both loved games, movies, and ice cream). In 1919, the family moved to Omaha, where they resided until 1924.

During that interlude, Morris spent two summers on his uncle's farm near Norfolk, Nebraska.[3] Photographs of the farm, as well as the real-life characters of Uncle Harry and Aunt Clara, appear in Morris's books.


Morris moved to Chicago in 1924.[4] Later that year, he accompanied his father on a road trip to the west coast that formed the basis for his first novel, My Uncle Dudley. He also lived briefly with his uncle in Texas before enrolling in Pacific Union College in California. He graduated from Pomona College in 1933.[5] He married Mary Ellen Finfrock in 1934;[5] the couple divorced in 1959. He later married Josephine Mary Kantor.

Following college, Morris traveled through Europe on a "wanderjahr," which he later fictionalized in Cause for Wonder.[6]

From 1944 to 1954, Morris lived in Philadelphia.[5] From 1954–1962, he divided his time between California and Mexico.[7] In 1963, he accepted a teaching position at San Francisco State College. He retired from teaching in 1975.

Morris won the National Book Award for The Field of Vision in 1956.[6] His final novel, Plains Song won the American Book Award in 1981.

Morris developed close friendships with several other American authors, most notably John O'Hara and Thornton Wilder, and was a pall bearer at O'Hara's funeral in 1970.[7] He also conducted a weekly correspondence with Scottish author Muriel Spark from 1962 until his death.[8]

Morris died of esophageal cancer in Mill Valley, California in 1998. He is buried in the Chapman Cemetery.[9]

Selected works[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

Morris received numerous honors in addition to the National Book Awards for The Field of Vision[11] and Plains Song.[14][a] He was granted Guggenheim Fellowships[16] in 1942, 1946, and 1954. In 1975, he won the Mari Sandoz Award recognizing "significant, enduring contribution to the Nebraska book world".[17] In 1979, he received the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1981, he won the Los Angeles Times' Book Prize Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement.[18] In 1982, a jury of Modern Language Association members selected him for the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in literature.[19] In 1985, he was one of the inaugural recipients of the Whiting Award.[20] In 1986, he was honored with a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.[21]


The full archive of Wright Morris photographs is located at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which also manages the copyright of these photographs.[22]

The Lincoln City Libraries of Lincoln, NE, houses some Morris correspondence and taped interviews in The Gale E. Christianson Collection of Eiseley Research Materials and The Wright Morris-Victor Musselman Correspondence collection.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries houses a collection of Wright Morris papers, including material donated by Josephine Morris (1927-2002), widow of Wright Morris.

Historical places in the life of Wright Morris[edit]

Wright Morris wrote about the places and lives he knew.[23] Here are a few of the most historic.


  1. ^ a b Plains Song won the 1981 award for hardcover Fiction.
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including the 1981 Fiction.


  1. ^ "Nebraska National Register Sites in Merrick County"[Usurped!]. Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  2. ^ Morris, Wright (1981). Will's Boy. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060148560.
  3. ^ "Wright Morris Biography". Center for Great Plains Studies. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  4. ^ Waterman, Arthur E. "The Novels of Wright Morris: An Escape from Nostalgia." Critique 4. (Winter 1961-62): 24-40.
  5. ^ a b c Howard, Leon. Wright Morris. Pamphlets on American Writers 69. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.
  6. ^ a b Knoll, Robert E. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
  7. ^ a b Crump, G. B. "Wright Morris." In A Literary History of the American West, edited by Thomas J. Lyon. Western Literary Association. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987.
  8. ^ Obituary, Omaha World-Herald, 1998
  9. ^ "Who Is Wright Morris". Lone Tree Literary Society www.wrightmorris.org
  10. ^ "National Book Awards – 1955". NBF. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  11. ^ a b "National Book Awards - 1957". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
    (With essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  12. ^ "National Book Awards – 1958". NBF. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  13. ^ "National Book Awards – 1961". NBF. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  14. ^ a b "National Book Awards - 1981". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
    (With essay by Patricia Smith from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  15. ^ a b "The O. Henry Prize Stories". Random House Publishing. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  16. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Archived from the original on 2007-02-05. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  17. ^ "Nebraska Library Association Handbook". Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  18. ^ "Los Angeles Times Book Prizes". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2002-04-24. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  19. ^ "Wright Morris Honored on Service in Literature". NY Times. 1982-10-03. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  20. ^ "Whiting Awards". Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  21. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts". Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  22. ^ CCP's "Conditions for Publication of Photographs by Wright Morris" (PDF file). Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona Libraries. Archived May 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Historical Buildings in the Life of Wright Morris". Lone Tree Literary Society.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]