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
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
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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