Stanley Elkin

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Stanley Lawrence Elkin (May 11, 1930 – May 31, 1995)[1] was a Jewish American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His extravagant, satirical fiction revolves around American consumerism, popular culture, and male-female relationships.



Elkin was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Chicago from age three onwards. He did both his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, receiving a bachelor's degree in English in 1952 and a Ph.D. in 1961 for his dissertation on William Faulkner. (During this period he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army from 1955-57.) In 1953 Elkin married Joan Marion Jacobson. He was a member of the English faculty at Washington University in St. Louis from 1960 until his death, and battled multiple sclerosis for most of his adult life.

During his career, Elkin published ten novels, two volumes of novellas, two books of short stories, a collection of essays, and one (unproduced) screenplay. Elkin's work revolves about American pop culture, which it portrays in innumerable darkly comic variations. Characters take full precedence over plot. His language throughout is extravagant and exuberant, baroque and flowery, taking fantastic flight from his characters' endless patter. "He was like a jazz artist who would go off on riffs," said critic William Gass. In a review of George Mills, Ralph B. Sipper wrote, "Elkin's trademark is to tightrope his way from comedy to tragedy with hardly a slip." About the influence of ethnicity on his work Elkin said he admired most "the writers who are stylists, Jewish or not. Bellow is a stylist, and he is Jewish. William Gass is a stylist, and he is not Jewish. What I go for in my work is language."

Although living in the Midwest, Elkin spent his childhood and teenage summers in a bungalow colony called West Oakland, on the Ramapo River in northern New Jersey not far from Mahwah, the home of Joyce Kilmer. This was a refuge for a close-knit group of several score families, mostly Jewish, from the summer heat of New York City and urban New Jersey. Elkin’s writings placed in New Jersey were informed by this experience.

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