Authors: Jill McCorkle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Cheer Leader, 1984

July Seventh, 1984

Tending to Virginia, 1987

Ferris Beach, 1990

Carolina Moon, 1996

Short Fiction:

Crash Diet: Stories, 1992

Final Vinyl Days, and Other Stories, 1998

Creatures of Habit, 2001


Jill Collins McCorkle is an important member of the third generation of twentieth century southern writers. Her ties to the landscape and cultural distinctiveness of the South stem from her upbringing among storytelling family members in the small town of Lumberton, North Carolina, where both her father, John, a postal worker, and her mother, Melba, a medical secretary, had extended family. McCorkle’s sense of language and natural representation of conversations among characters reveal her ties to the oral tradition of southern literary figures such as Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Joel Chandler Harris.{$I[A]McCorkle, Jill[MacCorkle, Jill]}{$I[geo]WOMEN;McCorkle, Jill[MacCorkle, Jill]}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;McCorkle, Jill[MacCorkle, Jill]}{$I[tim]1958;McCorkle, Jill[MacCorkle, Jill]}

Jill McCorkle

(Michael Mundy)

McCorkle earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980. Her professors included fiction writers Max Steele and Lee Smith as well as the highly respected southern literature scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr., all of whom played vital roles in her development as a writer. She graduated from the Hollins College Masters Program in Writing in 1981, earning the Andrew James Purdy Prize for her fiction. Her first two novels were published simultaneously by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a publishing house established by Rubin in 1982. Rave reviews led to McCorkle’s teaching creative writing classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University in 1986.

Upon her marriage to Dr. Daniel Shapiro, a graduate of the University of North Carolina medical school, McCorkle moved to Boston, where she resided with her husband and their children, Claudia and Robert. She taught at Tufts University from 1987 to 1989 and at Harvard University, where she held the Briggs Copeland Lectureship, from 1992 to 1997. She later joined the faculty of Bennington College to teach fiction writing. Her awards include the New England Booksellers Award for Crash Diet and the Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature.

McCorkle’s fiction is influenced by the strong sense of place that characterizes the work of the 1920’s and 1930’s Southern Renaissance writers such as William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. The second generation of twentieth century southern writers, including women such as Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, is even more influential on McCorkle’s work. The sense of place, as well as the distinctive voice and humor found in these writers’ work, characterizes her long and short fiction. Like other southern women writers of her own generation, such as Lee Smith, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Anne Tyler, McCorkle portrays without condescension a classless society where ordinary families deal with problems in a world of popular culture, and she shares with these particular authors a tendency to portray women, both adolescent and adult, successfully negotiating social boundaries, finding ways to accept change and move successfully into new roles.

Individual and family histories sometimes haunt McCorkle’s characters but ultimately play a role in their psychological growth, thus showing that neither the characters nor the South that she represents in her fiction is overly burdened by the past. Even the historically problematic relationship between southern blacks and whites does not escape her examination. As a social historian, McCorkle records changing racial attitudes that allow people to reshape negative traditions. The critical recognition bestowed upon her fiction, along with its commercial success, indicates that McCorkle is assured a prominent place in the literary canon.

BibliographyBennett, Barbara. “‘Reality Burst Forth’: Truth, Lies, and Secrets in the Novels of Jill McCorkle.” The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 31, no. 1 (Fall, 1997): 107-122. Explores the dominant theme of lies and self-delusion in five novels.Bennett, Barbara. Understanding Jill McCorkle. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. After providing an overview of McCorkle’s life and influences on her work, Bennett analyzes themes, characters, sense of place and language, and use of popular culture in the long and short fiction.Pembroke Magazine 34 (2002). This Jill McCorkle special issue includes an interview with McCorkle plus ten essays on her work.Pierce, Todd. “Jill McCorkle: The Emergence of the New South.” Southern Studies 5, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 1994): 19-30. Traces the influence of the past and the focus on ordinary, middle-class people and popular culture in McCorkle’s first books.Walker, Elinor Ann. “Dizzying Possibilities, Plots, and Endings: Girlhood in Jill McCorkle’s Ferris Beach.” In The Girl: Constructions of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction by Women, edited by Ruth Saxton. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Analyzes McCorkle’s appropriation of earlier biography and fiction in the novel’s protagonist’s probing of female roles and her identity formation. The argument applies to other woman and girl characters in McCorkle’s fiction.
Categories: Authors