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About The Book

The first full-scale biography of prolific writer Alice Adams, whose celebrated stories and bestselling novels traced women’s lives and illuminated “an era characterized both by drastic cultural changes and by the persistence of old expectations, conventions, and biases” (The New Yorker).

“Nobody writes better about falling in love than Alice Adams,” a New York Times critic said of the prolific writer. Born in 1926, Alice Adams grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. After college at Radcliffe and a year in Paris, she moved to San Francisco. Always a rebel in good-girl’s clothing, Adams used her education, sexual and emotional curiosity, and uncompromising artistic ambition to break the strictures that bound women in midcentury America. Divorced with a child to raise, she worked at secretarial jobs for two decades before she could earn a living as a writer. One of only four winners of the O. Henry Special Award for Continuing Achievement, Adams wove her life into her fiction and used her writing to understand the changing tides of the 20th century. Her work portrays vibrant characters both young and old who live on the edge of their emotions, absorbed by love affairs yet always determined to be independent and to fulfill their personal destinies.

Carol Sklenicka interweaves Adams’s deeply felt, elegantly fierce life with a cascade of events—the civil rights and women’s rights movements, the sixties counterculture, and sexual freedom. Her biography’s revealing analyses of Adams’s stories and novels from Careless Love to Superior Women to The Last Lovely City, and her extensive interviews with Adams’s family and friends, among them Mary Gaitskill, Diane Johnson, Anne Lamott, and Alison Lurie, give us the definitive story of a writer often dubbed “America’s Colette.” Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer captures not just a beloved woman’s life in full, but a crucial span of American history.

About The Author

Photograph by Katherine Ryan

Carol Sklenicka is the author of Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, which was named of one of the 10 Best Books of 2009 by The New York Times Book Review, and Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer. She lives with poet and novelist R.M. Ryan in northern California.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (December 3, 2019)
  • Length: 592 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451621341

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Raves and Reviews

“Pervasive deep research informs this inspiring story of a writer who demonstrably earned such a sturdy, illuminating biography.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“After a long apprenticeship, hampered by supporting her husband’s own writing career before their 1958 divorce, Adams found an audience in the 1970s that was newly avid for her core concern: female-centric depictions of love and sex…Sklenicka’s well-researched biography…easily evokes the spirit of Adams’s life, times, and works.”Publishers Weekly

“Those who love the novels and short stories, which trace women's lives beginning in 1930s America as they celebrate, grieve, and grow with the century, will be startled and delighted to see where the life and the fiction converge. [This] biography often reads like an Adams novel blessedly slowed down to allow the reader to soak for a moment in the atmospheres of a Chapel Hill childhood, Radcliffe College, Paris, and 1960s San Francisco.” —Booklist

“In her empathetic, revealing and brisk new biography, Carol Sklenicka frames Adams’ life and work within themes of escape, redemption and persistence… [She] deftly deploys quoted bits to illustrate how the life and work are so intricately intertwined. The art of literary biography — Sklenicka previously explored Raymond Carver — thus resembles an enormous, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle… Adams’ footprint has faded. Sklenicka’s portrait may well encourage new readers and justifiably revive her reputation.” —The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Drawing on extensive original sources, Carol Sklenicka gives us the first full-length popular biography of brilliant novelist and short story writer Alice Adams. For decades, Adams rendered believably three-dimensional female characters in beautiful, cut-glass prose in venues like The New Yorker.” —Christian Science Monitor, Best Books of December

Alice Adams is a perceptive, elegantly written biography that will broaden her renown and readership.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Carol Sklenicka is a lucid, scrupulous writer… [who] is prudent and appreciative in her assessment of Adams’s work.”—Blake Bailey, The New York Times Book Review

“Sklenicka is clearly a skilled biographer. Her writing is engaging yet simple and lacks the pretense and gentility Adams seemingly would have hated. No detail, story, or analysis feels unnecessary, an accomplishment for a work totaling more than 500 pages.” —Chicago Review of Books

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