Wright Morris was born on January 6, 1910, in Central City, Nebraska, and the Nebraska plains are the setting for much of his work. His mother, Grace Osborn Morris, died within days of his birth, leaving Morris "half an orphan." His father, Will Morris, was a traveler and "wanderer" who often left Morris in the care of neighbors. During Morris's childhood the family lived in several Nebraskan towns finally settling in Omaha from1919 to 1924.
Morris's feelings towards his father, a combination of both disapproval and respect, are found in his novel, The Works of Love, and in his first memoir, Will's Boy. The principal character of The Works of Love, Will Brady, is patterned after Morris's father. The memoir, Will's Boy, is not only important in understanding Morris's relationship to his father, but it also follows Morris through his childhood relating the death of his mother and how that affected him, and linking some of Morris's life to his novels.
While he lived in Omaha, Morris spent two summers on his Uncle Harry and Aunt Clara's farm near Norfolk, Nebraska. Both his Uncle Harry and his Aunt Clara appear in his writing. Morris, revisiting his past after a trip abroad, returned to the farm in 1942 and again in 1947 to take photographs for the photo-text The Home Place. Both The Home Place and its "sequel," the novel The World in the Attic, are autobiographical and are influenced by his time spent at the farm.
In 1924 Morris moved to Chicago. While living there, Morris and his father went on a road trip to California, which would later become the basis for his first novel, My Uncle Dudley. After Chicago, Morris briefly attended the Adventist-run Pacific Union College in California. He lived in Texas for a short while to work with his Uncle Dwight, returning to California to attend Pomona College until 1933.
After college Morris spent a year in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. This "Wanderjahr" would later provide information for a memoir and for the novel Cause for Wonder. In 1934 Morris returned to the United States, married Mary Ellen Finfrock, and began to develop his interest in photography. In the late 1930s Mary Ellen accepted a teaching job in the east. Shortly after the move to Connecticut, Morris decided to go on a "photo-safari" traveling through the South, Midwest, and West, and spending the winter writing in California. In 1942 and 1946 Morris was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships for photography. The money from the fellowships helped to fund his trips back to Nebraska and to the inspiration for his first two photo-texts, The Inhabitants and The Home Place.
From 1944 to 1954 Morris lived in Pennsylvania; after that he spent a lot of time in California and abroad in Mexico, Venice, and Greece. Morris traveled to escape his failing marriage, and in 1959 he went to Venice with Josephine Kantor, whom he married a year later after he divorced his wife. In 1963 Morris began teaching at San Francisco State College. He remained there until 1975.
During this time period Morris wrote many of his major works including several related to Nebraska and the plains. He published The Field of Vision in 1956, about a group of Nebraskans who find themselves in a bullfight arena in Mexico City. This book won the National Book award, and is one of Morris's most important books. Ceremony in Lone Tree, published in 1960, returns to many of the characters in The Field of Vision, and is an accessible but intricate slice of Midwestern life. This book would be Morris's last novel with Nebraska origins for twenty years.
Morris continued writing after he retired from teaching. In his final novel, Plains Song: For Female Voices (1980), Morris returned to his Nebraskan roots, tracing three generations of a Nebraska farm family. Plains Song won the American Book Award in 1981. Some of his other awards include the Mari Sandoz Award, the Robert Kirsch Award, the Mark Twain Award, the Life Achievement Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Whiting Award, and the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature. Morris lived with his second wife Josephine Mary Kantor in Mill Vallery, California, until he died in 1998.
My Uncle Dudley, Harcourt 1942; reprint, Greenwood Press, 1970.
The Man Who Was There, Scribners, 1945; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
The Home Place (with photographs), Scribners, 1948; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968.
The World in the Attic, Scribners, 1949; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.
Man and Boy, Knopf, 1951; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974.
The Works of Love, Knopf, 1952; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.
The Deep Sleep, Scribners, 1953; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975.
The Huge Season: A Novel, Viking, 1954; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975.
The Field of Vision, Harcourt, 1956; reprint Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974.
Love Among the Cannibals, Harcourt, 1957; reprint Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Ceremony in Lone Tree, Atheneum, 1960.
What a Way to Go, Atheneum, 1962; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
Cause for Wonder, Atheneum, 1963; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
One Day, Atheneum, 1965.
In Orbit, New American Library, 1969.
Fire Sermon, Harper, 1971.
War Games, Black Sparrow Press, 1972.
A Life, Harper, 1973.
The Fork River Space Project: A Novel, Harper, 1977.
Plains Song: For Female Voices, Harper & Row, 1980; reprint, David Godine, 1991.
Collections of Short Stories
Green Grass, Blue Sky, White House, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
Here Is Einbaum, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.
The Cat's Meow, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.
Real Losses, Imaginary Gains, Harper, 1976.
The Origin of Sadness, Parallel Editions (University, AL), 1984.
Collected Short Stories, 1948-1986, Harper, 1986; reprint, David Godine, 1988
Will's Boy: A Memoir, Harper, 1981.
Solo: An American Dreamer in Europe, 1933-34, Harper, 1983.
A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life, Harper, 1985.
Writing My Life: An Autobiography, Black Sparrow Press, 1993.
The Inhabitants, Scribner, 1946, 2nd edition, Da Capo, 1972.
God's Country and My People, Harper, 1968; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981.
Love Affair-Venetian Journal, Harper, 1972.
Structures and Artifacts: Photographs 1933-1954, Lincoln; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, 1975.
Wright Morris: Photographs and Words, edited and with introduction by James Alinder, Friends of Photography, 1982.
Time Pieces: Photographs, Writing, and Memory, Aperture, 1989
Collections of Essays: Social and Literary Criticism
The Territory Ahead. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1956.
A Bill of Rites, a Bill of Wrongs, a Bill of Goods. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968.
About Fiction: Reverent Reflections on the Nature of Fiction with Irreverent Observations on Writers, Readers and other Abuses. Harper & Row, 1975.
Earthly Delights, Unearthly Adornments: American Writers as Image Makers. Harper & Row, 1978.
Selected Essays and Book Chapters
"Our Endless Plains." Holiday 24 (July 1958), 68-69, 138-42.
"Conversations in a Small Town." Holiday 30 (November 1961), 98, 100, 103, 107-8.
"Willa Cather." Earthly Delights, Unearthly Adornments: American Writers as Image-Makers. New York: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 59-67.
"How I Put in the Time." In Growing Up Western, edited by Clarus Backes. New York: Knopf, 1989, pp. 99-124.
"Wright Morris: The Art of Fiction CXXV." Paris Review (1991): 52-94.
Wright Morris: A Reader (novels, short stories, and criticism; includes The Works of Love and The Field of Vision), with introduction by Granville Hicks, Harper, 1970.
Three Easy Pieces (includes The Fork River Space Project, Fire Sermon, and A Life), Black Sparrow Press, 1993.
Two for the Road (includes Man and Boy and In Orbit), Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer (includes The Works of Love and The Huge Season), Black Sparrow Press, 1995.
Bibliography information taken from:
Contemporary Authors. Vol. 81, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Group Inc., 1999, 272-78.
Wydeven, Joseph J. "Wright Morris." Resource Guide to Six Nebraska Authors, edited by David McCleery and Kira Gale. Lincoln, NE: Slow Tempo Press, 1991, pp. 46-56.
- Crump, G. B. The Novels of Wright Morris: A Critical Interpretation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
This book explores Morris's fiction up to A Life. After an introduction the piece is divided by chapters, each devoted to a few different works. With this work Crump wanted to make readers aware that Morris's fiction was more diverse in style, theme, and character development that early criticisms led the reader to believe.
- 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.
Crump gives an overview of Morris's fiction, its sophistication, its relation to the plains, its view of American culture, and its concern with philosophical issues. Crump emphasizes the complexity of Morris work. It also contains a good bibliography.
- Hicks, Granville. "Introduction" to Wright Morris: A Reader. New York: Harper & Row, 1970, ix-xxxiii.
Hicks gives a complimentary introduction to this Morris anthology that contains excerpts from Morris's work organized in terms of place: the plains, the road, the suburbs, and "elsewhere." Hicks's introduction explores some of Morris's work up to 1970, and includes information about Morris's life as well as his own thoughts on his work. The introduction is divided into sections, "Places," "People," "Things," "Shapes," "Words," and "Ideas," that could just as easily be read on their own as together.
- Howard, Leon. Wright Morris. Pamphlets on American Writers 69. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.
Howard explores the characters in Morris's fiction while giving an overview of his career. It contains a bibliography, and is a good place to begin to explore Morris's work.
- Knoll, Robert E. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Includes an introduction by Knoll, bibliographical references, and an index.
- Madden, David. Wright Morris. Twayne's United States Author Series 71. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964.
Madden's book starts with a chronology of Morris's life, and then discusses Morris's work stating that little biographical information is available. The first chapter gives an overview of Morris's fiction. The following chapters are broken down by book and are further broken down into sections within the chapters. The sections are clearly marked and each explores a different aspect or theme of Morris's work. There is a bibliography and index for quick reference. This piece fully explores Morris's career up to 1963.
- Wydeven, Joseph J. "Wright Morris." In Resource Guide to Six Nebraska Authors, edited by. David McCleery and Kira Gale. Lincoln, NE: Slow Tempo Press, 1991, pp. 46-56.
Wydeven provides the reader with some biographical information on Morris and lists Morris's works with a brief synopsis. He focuses on the relationship between Morris's plains/Nebraska connections and the setting for the plains novels and photo-texts.
- Wydeven, Joseph J. Wright Morris Revisited. Twayne's United States Author Series 703. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998.
Published shortly after Morris's death in 1998, this is the most recent, and therefore the most complete book on Morris's work, written over thirty years after the original Twayne book on Morris. It spans Morris's career with both photography and fiction. The book contains more biographical information than any other works listed, and also devotes a chapter to Morris's writing technique. The following chapters are written in time blocks signifying different periods of Morris's development as an author. Finally there is a chapter that ties the information together. Also included is an extensive bibliography of works by and about Morris.
Selected Articles in journals or books
- Madden, David. "The Great Plains in the Novels of Wright Morris." Critique 4 (Winter 1961-62): 5-23.
Even though this article was published in the early 60s it is still a good place to go if one wants to explore the sense of place in Morris's writing, at least in his early works. Madden briefly explores others' ideas on the Midwest and recounts on the history of the Nebraska area and how this relates to Morris's novels. Madden asserts that the land and the hero can be tied together in a mystical sense.
- Contemporary Authors. Vol. 81, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Group Inc., 1999, pp. 272-78.
This article contains some information regarding Morris's personal and career history including a list of awards and honors. It contains an bibliography of Morris's works and critical pieces on him, and also has information regarding critical reception of his work.
- Waterman, Arthur E. "The Novels of Wright Morris: An Escape from Nostalgia." Critique 4. (Winter 1961-62): 24-40.
In this piece Waterman discusses the way Morris's past influenced his work and his early explorations of the past in his novels. He then explores the way Morris's characters' pasts prevent them from present fulfillment paralleling Morris's own development as an artist and author. Finally Waterman comments on how the author and his characters come to terms with the past and are ready for the present. This piece represents a standard of criticism of Morris's earlier novels up to Ceremony in Lone Tree.
- Conversation with Wright Morris. 30 min. 1980.
Morris discusses his novel Plains Song with host Robert Cromie. This video was originally produced as part of the Nebraska ETV Network series Bookshelf Special.
- Plains Images: The Photography of Wright Morris. 30 min. 1980.
Morris discusses his feelings towards photography.
- Wright Morris/Repossession. Two Parts, each 30 min. 1976.
In Part One, Morris discusses his early experiences in Nebraska and how he utilized them in his writing. In Part Two, he relates his approaches to photography and explores the reader's relationship to the novel.
The above videos are available through NETCHE Instructional Video: http://netdb.unl.edu/NetcheVideo/catalog/index.cfm