Styron, William Clark, Jr.

Styron, William Clark, Jr.
▪ 2007

      American novelist (b. June 11, 1925, Newport News, Va.—d. Nov. 1, 2006, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts), was noted for his treatment of tragic themes and his use of a rich, classical prose style. Styron served in the U.S. Marine Corps before graduating (1947) from Duke University, Durham, N.C. During the 1950s he was part of the community of American expatriates in Paris. From 1953 he served as advisory editor to the Paris Review. Styron's first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), set in his native Tidewater Virginia, told of a young woman from a loveless middle-class family who fights unsuccessfully for her sanity before committing suicide. His next work, The Long March (1956), chronicled a brutal forced march undertaken by recruits in a Marine training camp. The novel Set This House on Fire appeared in 1960. Styron's fourth novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), was an account of a historical incident, a black slave rebellion led by the title character in Virginia in 1831. Based on a transcript of Turner's testimony and told from his point of view, the book portrayed a sensitive, intelligent, and kindly man denied all normal human happiness because of his degrading enslavement. Embittered and alienated, he undertakes a bloody revolt that ends in his capture and execution. The novel was a tour de force of complex psychological presentation and a vivid evocation of slavery in the United States in the early 19th century. It was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1968. Styron's later works included a play, In the Clap Shack (1972), and the novel Sophie's Choice (1979; filmed 1982), which portrayed the growth of a friendship between a young Southern writer and a Polish woman who survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. This Quiet Dust (1982) was a collection of essays that treated the dominant themes of Styron's fiction. Darkness Visible (1990) was a nonfiction account of Styron's struggle against depression.

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