William Maxwell

A Literary Life
Author: Barbara Burkhardt
The illustrious life and works of the famous New Yorker editor
Cloth – $38.95
Paper – $25.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2008
Cloth: 03/07/2005
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About the Book

Known as a beloved, longtime fiction editor at The New Yorker, William Maxwell worked closely with such legendary writers as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Mary McCarthy, and John Cheever. His own novels include They Came Like Swallows and the American Book Award-winning So Long, See You Tomorrow, and many consider him to be one of the twentieth century's most important writers. Barbara Burkhardt's William Maxwell: A Literary Life represents the first major critical study of this Illinois writer's life and work.

Writing with an economy and elegance befitting her subject, Burkhardt addresses Maxwell's highly autobiographical fiction by skillfully interweaving his biography with her own critical interpretations. She contextualizes his fiction in terms of events including his mother's early death from influenza, his marriage, and the role of his psychoanalysis under the guidance of Theodor Reik. Drawing on a wide range of previously unavailable material, Burkhardt includes letters Maxwell received from authors such as Eudora Welty and Louise Bogan, excerpts from his unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, and her own interviews with Maxwell and key figures from his life, including John Updike, Roger Angell, New Yorker fiction editor Robert Henderson, and Maxwell's family and friends.

About the Author

Barbara Burkhardt is an associate professor of English and a University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Springfield. A close acquaintance of William Maxwell, she organized his correspondence for the Maxwell archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


"Maxwell gets his due in this combination of biography and critical study . . . this solid book will work as a guarantee against future neglect."--ALA Booklist

"In deeply layered, supple, and clear prose, Burkhardt captures the dramas of Maxwell's life. . . . Burkhardt explores Maxwell's fiction as though opening a door to a new world, a world as wide as the prairie skies that define Maxwell's imaginative universe."--Chicago Tribune

"A valiant attempt to chart the relations between the stories Maxwell told and the stories he lived. . . . William Maxwell rises splendidly to the occasion of his best novels and stories."--New York Times

"Very capably opens discussion of a long-overlooked writer, and sheds much useful light on his coming-of-intellectual-age."--Washington Post

"Required reading for any devoted Maxwell enthusiast."--Publishers Weekly


“William Maxwell is a timely and important book, created out of Barbara Burkhardt’s perceptive vision of the man and his work, her painstaking scholarship, and her unique access to Maxwell himself.”--Penelope Niven, author of the award-winning Carl Sandburg: A Biography