In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evan S. Connell

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Reference Works
  • Criticism of the Films
  • Interviews

American Literature Evan S. Connell
Steve Paul
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0012


Evan S. Connell (b. 1924–d. 2013) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up there in a prosperous family with historical ties—reflected in his middle name, Shelby—to Confederate general Jo Shelby. Although his physician father expected his namesake son to join him in his medical practice, Connell, while at Dartmouth College, began to consider more creative options, including writing and making art. After a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II—he never left the country—Connell began writing down his experiences and finished his undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas. On the Lawrence, Kansas, campus, he studied art and continued to write, under the tutelage of Ray B. West, who edited the Western Review. With aid from the G.I. Bill and encouragement from West, Connell successfully applied to Wallace Stegner’s first class of creative writing fellows at Stanford University. He spent another year in writing and art classes at Columbia University in New York. Ultimately, he saw more of a future in writing, though he kept up a practice of life drawing and painting for many years. Connell had an early run of published short stories, beginning in 1946. After a fallow period in California, Connell went to Paris in 1952, where he became acquainted with the founding editors of The Paris Review. The literary journal published three of Connell’s stories, including segments from Connell’s novel in progress, which eventually was titled Mrs. Bridge. By then, Connell had taken up residence in San Francisco. After rejection by several New York publishers, the Viking Press took on Connell, releasing a story collection in 1957 before cementing Connell’s reputation with Mrs. Bridge, a quietly evocative portrait of a prosperous, middle-American family, which became his most admired and lucrative work of fiction. Over the next five decades Connell veered into an extraordinary variety of works—fiction, nonfiction, history, and hybrid experiments that looked like epic poetry. This pattern of no pattern in the arc of Connell’s work, combined with his lack of interest in self-promotion, seemed to confuse the New York publishing world, and critics often cited his unpredictability as the cause of a kind of literary marginalization. His sprawling account of Custer at the Little Bighorn became hugely popular in the 1980s, raising his profile and reviving his reputation as a writer.

Primary Texts

Connell’s literary production includes an unusually wide variety of materials. They range from traditional short fiction and inventive novels to historical essays, experimental hybrids of history, philosophy and poetry, deeply researched accounts of American and European history, and idiosyncratic biographical essays. Connell published nineteen distinct titles, though two or three of those include repackagings or revised editions under new titles. Two books of essays, for example, now appear as one in The Aztec Treasure House, and The Alchymist’s Journal was republished and lightly revised as Alchymic Journals. Most of his short fiction was gathered in Collected Stories, though Lost in Uttar Pradesh includes selected older stories alongside newer ones not previously collected. All of Connell’s major works remain in print in some form. Counterpoint, a step-child of sorts to North Point Press, retains the copyright for all of Connell’s major work, except for Son of the Morning Star, which Farrar, Straus & Giroux retains by virtue of its acquisition of many North Point titles following its demise in 1991. Connell published as many as four dozen book reviews for major newspapers and magazines plus a handful of literary essays and book introductions, all of which remain uncollected.

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