American Literature Andre Dubus
Olivia Carr Edenfield
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0105


Contemporary writer Andre Dubus (b. 1936–d. 1999) published two novels, six collections of short stories / novellas, and two collections of essays during his lifetime. He was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where perhaps the fondness he felt for his two older sisters coupled with the close relationship he maintained with his mother, Katherine (Burke) Dubus, contributed to his ability to write so well from a female perspective. He graduated from the Christian Brothers High School in Lafayette, Louisiana, then earned his BA in English and journalism from McNeese State College, where he wrote a weekly column for the campus newspaper, in which he gave his opinions on a wide variety of current events. In 1958, after he graduated, he married Patricia (Pat) Lowe and, hoping to please his detached father, accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the US Marines. When Andre Sr. died in 1963, his son resigned to pursue his master of fine arts (MFA) degree at the University of Iowa, where he became friends with Richard Yates, Kurt Vonnegut, and others who would influence him both professionally and personally. In 1966, he moved with his wife and four children to teach at Bradford College in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1984. Though Dubus would be the first at Iowa to receive a contract for a novel while still in graduate school, it would be his short stories that would secure his critical reputation. Dubus’s successful career was complicated by three divorces, the last of which brought an end to his eight-year marriage to writer Peggy Rambach, with whom he had two daughters. The couple separated a year and a half after tragedy occurred along I-93 just after midnight on 23 July 1986, in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Dubus had stopped to aid two stranded motorists and was struck by a car. The accident left him crippled and in constant pain. As he adjusted to the frustrating disability that robbed him of his physical energy and temporarily stole his ability to write fiction, he found peace in the rituals of family and faith and rediscovered his voice in essay writing. On 24 February 1999, Andre Dubus died of heart failure at his home in Haverhill. Though he lived and worked for the majority of his life around the mill towns of Massachusetts, his upbringing in the bayous of Louisiana and his deep Catholic faith had the greatest influence on his writing. With the exception of the limited edition of Land Where My Fathers Died (1985) and the novels The Lieutenant (1967) and Voices from the Moon (1984), which are available as e-books, all of Dubus’s collections remain in print. His story “Killings” (1979) is popular in anthologies. He has had two screenplays adapted from his work, In the Bedroom (2001) and We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004).

Critical Overviews

There are three critical book-length studies of Dubus’s work: Kennedy 1988, Edenfield 2017, and Ivanov-Craig 2017 provide overviews and analysis of reoccurring themes in Dubus’s work. Kennedy’s provides a general overview of Dubus’s short fiction and novellas with a unique focus on the Paul Clement stories. Edenfield opens with a biography that ties the author’s life experiences to his fiction and essays and then provides thematically organized chapters as a guide to reading Dubus’s canon. Ivanov-Craig narrows her critical focus to explore those works that Dubus wrote after his accident. In addition, several lengthy introductions provide additional insights into Dubus’s life and writings. Robison 1983 is the earliest to centralize initiation and marriage as two recurring themes in Dubus’s stories, as well as to remark on the Catholicism that would gain future critical enthusiasm (see Sexual Politics and Catholic Influences). Rowe 1993 focuses on Dubus’s stories that deal with relationship troubles, one of the themes that would dominate his fiction throughout his career (see Sexual Politics). Devlin 1993 and Bodwell 2008 focus on recurring themes of self-exploration in Dubus’s work, while Brown 2000 concentrates more on issues of family. A book-length critical study of Dubus’s fiction as well as a biography would be welcome additions to the scholarship.

  • Bodwell, Joshua. “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus: We Don’t Have to Live Great Lives.” Poets & Writers 36.4 (1 July 2008): 21–25.

    Begins with a discussion of Dancing After Hours as the entry point into both the biographical and literary influences on Dubus’s canon, while providing brief analyses of stories in relation to dominant themes that span Dubus’s career.

  • Brown, Suzanne Hunter. “Andre Dubus (1936–1999).” In Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Edited by Blanche H. Gelfant, 226–234. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

    Begins with a short biography, interesting for its lengthy discussion of Dubus’s first published story, “The Intruder.” Sets up the recurring conflict in Dubus’s stories of protagonists who face difficult choices in protection of family; this theme is carried through in a discussion of two of Dubus’s most acclaimed stories, “Killings” (1979) and “Out of the Snow” (1996).

  • Devlin, James E. “Andre Dubus.” In American Short-Story Writers since World War II. Edited by Patrick Meanor, 142–149. Dictionary of Literary Biography 244. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

    Provides a comparison of Dubus’s art to Hemingway’s, praising each writer for his “plain” style that is strictly American. Discusses not only Dubus’s life, but also summarizes motifs in the stories that resonate the age-old themes of self-exploration made new again.

  • Edenfield, Olivia Carr. Understanding Andre Dubus. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2017.

    Critical study that explores Dubus’s short stories and essays by connecting themes. Begins with a biography of the author that sets up the thematic chapters that follow—boyhood, faith, and military life; domestic space, marriage, and fatherhood—and ends with a chapter that ties Dubus’s two collections of essays to the recurring issues that unite his fiction.

  • Ivanov-Craig, Andrea. Moving toward Redemption: Spiritually and Disability in the Late Writings of Andre Dubus, 1936–1999. New York: Peter Lang, 2017.

    Explores the seventeen stories that Dubus wrote after his accident. Six chapters that provide close readings of the late works, which are tied together by their emphasis on faith and redemption.

  • Kennedy, Thomas E. Andre Dubus: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction 1. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

    Preface provides a solid overview of Dubus’s life and work, while the Chronology includes literary and biographical milestones. First book-length study of Dubus that gives in-depth discussions of the Paul Clement stories as well as the military and marriage tales, the latter of which continued to dominate his stories.

  • Robison, James C. “1969–1980: Experiment and Tradition.” In The American Short Story, 1945–1980: A Critical History. Edited by Gordon Weaver, 77–109. Twayne’s Critical History of the Short Story. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

    Discusses the marriage themes and the boyhood initiation stories that dominate the first two collections of stories. One of the first to call attention to the Catholic overtones in Dubus’s fiction.

  • Rowe, Anne E. “Andre Dubus.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook. Edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain, 101–111. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

    Short biography that situates Dubus as a southern writer whose dominant themes include relationship troubles and rites of passage. Also provides a brief summary of the noteworthy criticism of the novels and the first five collections of stories/novellas.

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