Authors: Richard G. Stern

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Golk, 1960

Europe: Or, Up and Down with Schreiber and Baggish, 1961

In Any Case, 1962 (also known as The Chaleur Network, 1981)

Stitch, 1965

Other Men’s Daughters, 1973

Natural Shocks, 1978

A Father’s Words, 1986

Pacific Tremors, 2001

Short Fiction:

Teeth, Dying, and Other Matters, 1964

1968: A Short Novel, an Urban Idyll, Five Stories, and Two Trade Notes, 1970

Packages, 1980

Noble Rot: Stories, 1949-1988, 1989

Shares, and Other Fictions, 1992

Drama:

The Gamesman’s Island, pb. 1964

Nonfiction:

One Person and Another: On Writers and Writing, 1993

A Sistermony, 1995

Edited Texts:

Honey and Wax: The Powers and Pleasures of Narrative, 1966

American Poetry of the Fifties, 1967

Miscellaneous:

The Books in Fred Hampton’s Apartment, 1973

The Invention of the Real, 1982

The Position of the Body, 1986

What Is What Was, 2002

Biography

Richard Stern is often referred to as a writer’s writer, much honored by his peers but relatively neglected by the critics and (with one or two exceptions) by the reading public. He was born Richard Gustave Stern on February 25, 1928, in New York City, the son of a dentist; both his parents were of German Jewish descent. A brilliant and precocious student, Stern entered the University of North Carolina at the age of sixteen; he graduated in 1947. He received an M.A. from Harvard University in 1949 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1954. In 1955 he began teaching at the University of Chicago, where he would remain, with visiting stints at other universities. In 1950 Stern and Gay Clark were married; they had four children. The marriage ended in divorce; in 1985 Stern married the poet Alane Rollings.{$I[AN]9810000802}{$I[A]Stern, Richard G.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Stern, Richard G.}{$I[tim]1928;Stern, Richard G.}

Richard G. Stern

With Golk, Stern made a strong debut as a novelist. Centering on a fictitious television program based on the then-popular Candid Camera, the 1960 work came at a time when television, though already all-pervasive in American life, had received little serious attention. The program, called You’re On Camera, catches people unawares, exposing them to the laughter of viewers all over the country. The novel’s protagonist, Herbert Hondorp, becomes involved in the program, but when he himself is trapped in embarrassing behavior, he decides to betray his employer. Involved in the plot is Hondorp’s marriage, in which fidelity and betrayal become equally entwined–as in the television program. Fidelity and betrayal are recurring themes in Stern’s fiction. In Any Case, his third novel, is based on a historical incident during World War II. The protagonist seeks to prove that his son, who was killed during the war and who has been branded as a traitor, was in fact innocent. As a “spy novel,” In Any Case is above the usual run of thrills-and-secrets fiction; its main intent is to focus on the father’s unswerving loyalty to his son’s memory. Ultimately, the father manages to prove that his son indeed was not a traitor; this discovery brings a modicum of fulfillment.

Fidelity and betrayal are also central to the autobiographical novel Other Men’s Daughters, Stern’s greatest popular success, which enjoyed a brief run on the best-seller list. The protagonist, a professor of biology at Harvard, is deeply unhappy in his marriage yet reluctant to leave his family. His hesitations are overcome when he forms a relationship with a student. Other Men’s Daughters illustrates another defining characteristic of Stern’s fiction: his intellectual curiosity. In Other Men’s Daughters, one sees the world as a biologist sees it; the protagonist’s profession is not mere window-dressing. Similarly, in Natural Shocks both style and theme are related to the profession of the protagonist, a globe-trotting journalist accustomed to the company of people who make things happen. In the course of the novel he must confront the unyielding reality of death.

After a long hiatus, Stern published Pacific Tremors in 2001. It is the story of two aging friends, but it is set in the milieu of the youth-obsessed film industry. The tremors of the title refer both to the constantly shifting earth in Southern California and the tremors running through each man’s life as he accommodates to growing older and losing touch with his creativity and profession.

The range and variousness of Stern’s fiction–and his relative lack of self-absorption (compare his friend and fellow novelist Philip Roth)–have no doubt cost him readers, yet these are the very qualities that make his work stand out. His achievements have been recognized with Fulbright, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller fellowships; in addition, he has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

BibliographyBergonzi, Bernard. “Herzog in Venice, I.” The New York Review of Books 5 (December 9, 1965): 26. Bergonzi claims that the hero of Stitch is modeled on Ezra Pound. He likes the novel but is uneasy about Stern’s evocation of literary myths.Cavell, Marsha. “Visions of Battlements.” Partisan Review 38, no. 1 (1971): 117-121. Cavell reviews four books in this article, including 1968, by Stern. She discusses “Veni, Vidi … Wendt” and “East, West … Midwest” from Stern’s collection, seeing him as a satirist whose writing is “at once gentle and biting.”Harris, Mark. Saul Bellow: Drumlin Woodchuck. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980. This book is primarily a study of Stern’s friend, Saul Bellow. It is dedicated to Stern and repeatedly treats him, especially in connection with his friendships with Harris and Bellow. Also discusses his friendship with Philip Roth and recognizes the difficulty most readers have with Stern’s work. Although Harris treats Stern throughout the book, the treatment is especially intensive in chapters 2 and 3.Izzo, David Garrett. The Writings of Richard Stern: The Education of an Intellectual Everyman. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. A literary biography, discussing the major themes in his fiction and his use of fictionalized autobiography. Analyzes all of his novels and short stories through 2001.Kenner, Hugh. “Stitch: The Master’s Voice.” Review of Stitch, by Richard G. Stern. Chicago Review 18 (Summer, 1966): 177-180. A very favorable review, in which Kenner praises Stern’s originality and his ability to construct a novel out of discrete parts. Kenner also calls the book an act of homage to Ezra Pound.Rogers, Bernard. Foreword to Golk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. This introduction to the Phoenix reprint of Stern’s first novel treats his fiction in general, especially his novels. It traces through Stern’s novels four of his major themes: adapting to change, handling moral responsibility, dealing with problems of fatherhood and domestic life, and handling power. It also discusses his distinctive narrative voice.Rosenberg, Milton, and Elliot Anderson. “A Conversation with Richard Stern.” Chicago Review 31 (Winter, 1980): 98-108. Stern talks about the nature of the novel, the purpose of a serious novel, his intentions in some of his own fiction, his opinion of other contemporary fiction writers, and the protagonists of his fiction.Schiffler, James. Richard Stern. New York: Twayne, 1993. The first book-length critical study of Stern; includes a brief overview of his life, a survey of his novels and short stories, and discussions of his style and themes; chapter 5 is primarily on the theme of the “comedy of failure” in his short stories.Stern, Richard G. “Conversation with Richard Stern.” Interview by Milton Rosenberg and Elliot Anderson. Chicago Review 31 (Winter, 1980): 98-108. This article is an edited transcript of an interview that took place on WGN radio. In it, Stern traces what he calls the change in his writing from creating stories drawn from the external world to creating ones drawn from inside himself. He also briefly discusses the works of several other contemporary American writers, including John Barth, Donald Barthelme, John Gardner, Truman Capote, and Irving Wallace.Stern, Richard G. Interview by Molly McQuade. Publishers Weekly 235 (January 20, 1989): 126-128. This interview appeared after the publication of Stern’s collection of short stories Noble Rot. It briefly traces his life, literary career, and career as a university professor. Includes a photograph of Stern.
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