William Gaddis Papers 1902-1998
full text File Size: 745 K bytes | Add this to my bookbag

Biographical / Historical Note

William Thomas Gaddis, Jr. was born on December 29, 1922 in Manhattan and raised in Massepequa (Long Island), by his parents, Edith and William Thomas Gaddis, Sr. His father left the family when he was three years old. Two years later, Edith sent her only child to Merricourt Boarding School in Berlin, Connecticut. Gaddis continued in private school until the eighth grade, after which he returned to Long Island to receive his diploma at Farmingdale High School in 1941.

Gaddis entered Harvard University on scholarship in the fall of 1941, where he continued until an illness forced him to take a medical leave of absence. After being reinstated at Harvard in the fall of 1942, Gaddis majored in English. By the fall of 1943, Gaddis had joined the staff of the Harvard Lampoon, where he would eventually serve as President. After leaving Harvard without a degree in 1945, Gaddis moved to Greenwich Village. During this time, he worked at the New Yorker; however, his most important hours were spent socializing with the emerging Beat Generation and working on his first novel, The Recognitions (1955). During this period, Gaddis also traveled throughout Central America, Europe, and Northern Africa.

Shortly after the publication of The Recognitions, Gaddis married his first wife, Patsy Black, who would give birth to his only children, Sarah and Matthew. His first novel was not well-received by academia, literary critics, or the purchasing public, and so from the late 1950s to the the mid 1970s, Gaddis worked for Pfizer International, Eastman Kodak, IBM, and the United States Army, as a speechwriter and/or screenwriter to support his family.

In 1975, twenty years after his first novel, he published J.R., which would go on to win a National Book Award in 1976. By this time, he was also involved in his second marriage to Judith Thompson, which would dissolve shortly after J.R. was published. By the late 1970s, Gaddis had met Muriel Oxenberg Murphy, with whom he would reside until the mid-1990s.

Gaddis' third novel Carpenter's Gothic, (1985) which he called a 'romance,' would be nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award, while his fourth novel, A Frolic of His Own (1994), would earn him a second National Book Award in 1995. Gaddis was also awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim, a Lannan Foundation grant, and a MacArthur Foundation award. He was a member of PEN and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

William Thomas Gaddis died of prostate cancer in 1998. His final work, Agapé, Agape was published four years later in the fall of 2002.