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Gass, William H.


Born: July 30, 1924

Ohio connection: Former Resident

William H. Gass was born in 1924 in Fargo, North Dakota. When he was very young his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he would spend his formative years. Gass had an unhappy childhood, as his father (who Gass described as a racist bigot) was crippled by arthritis and his mother was an alcoholic. After graduation from high school, Gass began college at Ohio Wesleyan University. His time in college was interrupted by a stint in the navy during World War II, after which he continued his studies at Kenyon college. Gass then went on to study at Cornell, where he wrote a dissertation influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, by whom he often attended lectures, and Max Black, who directed his undergraduate work. Gass left Cornell in 1954 to teach at Purdue University, where he would teach philosophy for 15 years. In 1969, Gass moved to St. Louis to teach at Washington University, where he still resides.

Gass's first novel, Omensetter's Luck, was published in 1966 after numerous rejections. Immediately upon release it received wide critical acclaim. He then published the short story collection In The Heart of the Country and a novella, Willie Master's Lonesome Wife, in 1968. Gass's second novel, The Tunnel, did not appear until 1995. Critical reaction to the book was split, with some declaring it Gass's long-awaited masterpiece, while others were puzzled or found it uneven. Gass's third novel, Middle C, was released in 2013. 

Longview Foundation Award in fiction, 1959, for "The Triumph of Israbestis Tott"; Rockefeller Foundation grant for fiction, 1965-66; Standard Oil Teaching Award, Purdue University, 1967; Sigma Delta Chi Best Teacher Award, Purdue University, 1967 and 1968; Chicago Tribune award for Big-Ten teachers, 1967; Indiana University Writers' Conference Award for Fiction, 1968; Guggenheim fellowship, 1969-70; Alumni Teaching Award, Washington University, 1974; National Institute for Arts and Letters prize for literature, 1975; Pushcart Prize, 1976, 1983, 1987, 1992; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters National Medal of Merit for fiction, 1979; National Book Critics Circle award for criticism, 1986, for The Habitations of the Word: Essays; Getty Scholar, 1993; PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and American Book Award, both 1996, for The Tunnel; National Book Critics Circle criticism award, 1997, for Finding a Form; Lifetime Achievement Award, The Lannan Foundation Literary Awards, 1997; National Book Critics Circle award for criticism, and PEN/Spielvogel Diamonstein Award for the art of the essay from the PEN American Center, both for Tests of Time: Essays, 2003. D.Litt., Kenyon College, 1974 and 1985; D.Litt., George Washington University, 1982; D.Litt., Purdue University, 1985.