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John Cheever

Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912, John Cheever wrote for more than half a century while publishing over two hundred short stories.  He's known for writing about the world of American suburbia.  Although he was one of the most popular short story writers of the twentieth century, the man critics nicknamed Chekhov of the Suburbs once said that he earned barely "enough money to feed the family and buy a new suit every other year."

Cheever's father owned a shoe factory and was relatively well fixed financially until he lost his business in the 1929 stock market crash.  After his father deserted the family, young John was understandably upset.  Cheever left school at the age of 17 and, like his father, hit the road.  He had been enrolled at Thayer Academy but was expelled for smoking.  Never one to cry over his failures, Cheever turned the experience into the nucleus of his first published story, Expelled (1930), which Malcolm Cowley bought for the New Republic magazine. 

The author went to live with his brother in Boston for a time.  There, he began writing synopses for MGM and selling stories to various magazines.  After a journey to Europe, he returned to the U. S. and settled in New York, where he became friends with fellow writers John Dos Passos, Edward Estlin Cummings, James Agee, and James Farrell. 

The New Yorker published one of Cheever's pieces for the first time in 1935, a major coming-of-age for any young author.  He would continue to write for the magazine for the rest of his life.  When the Second World War broke out, Cheever enlisted in the military and served as an infantry gunner and a member of the Signal Corps.  Following his service, he worked as a teacher while writing television scripts.

In 1951, Cheever received a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to become a full-time writer.  His stories were collected in books, including The Way Some People Live (1943) and The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953).  Another book, The Stories of John Cheever, published in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize and became one of the few collections of short stories ever to make The New York Times bestseller list.

In the mid-1950s, Cheever began writing novels.  The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), an autobiographical story based on the relationship between his mother and father, chronicled the family's genteel decline and life.  The book won the National Book Award in 1958.

"Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood.  Stand up straight.  Admire the world.  Relish the love of a gentle woman.  Trust in the Lord." - from The Wapshot Chronicle

Cheever kept journals throughout his entire life, and a few years before he died in 1982, he told his son that he wanted selections from his journals to be published.  The Journals of John Cheever came out in 1990.  He wrote in his journal about his alcoholism, his depression, his bisexuality, his family, and his writing.

He also wrote, "I worked four days a week on The [Wapshot] Chronicle, with intense happiness.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I had a course in advanced composition at Barnard College.  My weekends went roughly like this.  On Saturday mornings, I played touch football until the noon whistle blew, when I drank Martinis for an hour or so with friends.  On Saturday afternoons, I played Baroque music on the piano or recorder with an ensemble group.  On Saturday nights, my wife and I either entertained or were entertained by friends.  Eight o'clock Sunday morning found me at the Communion rail, and the Sunday passed pleasantly, according to the season, in skiing, scrub hockey, swimming, football, or backgammon.  This sport was occasionally interrupted by the fact that I drove the old Mack engine for the volunteer fire department and also bred black Labrador retrievers.  As I approached the close of the novel, there were, in my workroom, eight Labrador puppies, and on my desk the Barnard themes, the fire-department correspondence, [and] The Wapshot Chronicle....

"My happiness was immense, and I trust that the book will, in some ways, be a reminder of this."

John Cheever died in 1982.

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