WILLIAM STYRON, WHO DIED on November 1, 2006, left readers with many experiences and many shared lives--from the slave revolt described in THE Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) to the Holocaust aftermath detailed in Sophie's Choice (1979). As one of the leading novelists of the post--World War II generation, Styron captured the complex moral, historical, and cultural questions of contemporary society.
Born in Virginia, Styron served in the Marines during World War II and graduated from Duke University in 1947. Following a brief stint in the New York publishing world, he wrote his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), a commercial and critical success. In a short time, Styron became the American South's new literary voice, a writer seen as iconic as William Faulkner. Upon winning the Prix de Rome for Lie Down in Darkness, Styron received military training in North Carolina during the Korean War and spent an extended time in Europe. The Long March (1956), about two Marine reservists' fight to retain their dignity while on a grueling forced march staged by a posturing colonel, and Set This House on Fire (1960), a portrayal of American expatriates, fictionalize these experiences.
Styron's 1967 masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner, won the Pulitzer Prize but raised criticism about how a white Protestant writer could understand the slave experience. Controversy also marked the award-winning Sophie's Choice: reviewers questioned why Styron featured a non-Jewish, rather than Jewish European, victim of the Holocaust. Despite such criticism, Styron's in-depth exploration of race, class, and personal responsibility ensure his lasting place in American letters.
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LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS (1951): In a South torn between religious tradition and modernity and marred by racial injustice, a tormented family causes its own suffering. Milton's infidelity creates a farce of his marriage to his bitter wife, and the beautiful and tragic Peyton Loftis loves her father too dearly.
"[S]uch an explosive combination of blazing power and exasperating confusion of thought and narrative that it should stir up a fine controversy." ORVILLE PRESCOTT, NEW YORK TIMES, 9/10/51
THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER (1967): * PULITZER PRIZE. In 1831, Nat Turner, a black preacher and...