Hersey, John 1914–1993

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Hersey, John 1914–1993

(John Richard Hersey)

PERSONAL: Born June 17, 1914, in Tientsin, China; died March 23, 1993, in Key West, FL; son of Roscoe Monroe (a Y.M.C.A. secretary in China) and Grace (a missionary; maiden name Baird) Hersey; married Frances Ann Cannon, April 27, 1940 (divorced, February, 1958); married Barbara Day Addams Kaufman, June 2, 1958; children: (first marriage) Martin, John, Ann, Baird; (second marriage) Brook (daughter). Education: Yale University, B.A., 1936; attended Clare College, Cambridge, 1936–37. Politics: Democrat Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, gardening, fishing, reading.

CAREER: Writer. Private secretary, driver, and factotum for Sinclair Lewis, summer, 1937; writer, editor, and correspondent, Time magazine, 1937–44, correspondent in China and Japan, 1939, covered South Pacific warfare, 1942, correspondent in Mediterranean theater, including Sicilian campaign, 1943, and in Moscow, 1944–45; editor and correspondent for Life magazine, 1944–45; writer for New Yorker and other magazines, 1945–93; made trip to China and Japan for Life and New Yorker, 1945–46; fellow, Berkeley College, Yale University, 1950–65; master, Pierson College, Yale University, 1965–70, fellow, 1965–93; writer-in-residence, American Academy in Rome, 1970–71; lecturer, Yale University, 1971–75, professor, 1975–84, professor emeritus, 1984–93. Chair, Connecticut Volunteers for Stevenson, 1952; member of Adlai Stevenson's campaign staff, 1956. Editor and director of writers' co-operative magazine, '47. Member of Westport (CT) School Study Council, 1945–50, of Westport Board of Education, l950–52, of Yale University Council Committee on the Humanities, 1951–56, of Fairfield (CT) Citizens School Study Council, 1952–56, of National Citizens' Commission for the Public Schools, 1954–56; consultant, Fund for the Advancement of Education, 1954–56; chair, Connecticut Committee for the Gifted, 1954–57; member of Board of Trustees, Putney School, 1953–56; delegate to White House Conference on Education, 1955; trustee, National Citizens' Council for the Public Schools, 1956–58; member, visiting committee, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1960–65; member, Loeb Theater Center, 1980–93; Yale University Council Committee on Yale College, member, 1959–61, chair, 1964–69; trustee, National Committee for Support of the Public Schools, 1962–68.

MEMBER: National Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Letters (secretary, 1961–78, chancellor, 1981–84), American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Authors League of America (member of council, 1946–70, 1975–93, vice president, 1949–55, president, 1975–80), Authors Guild (member of council, 1946–93), PEN.

AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize, 1945, for A Bell for Adano; Anisfield-Wolf Award, 1950, for The Wall; Daroff Memorial Fiction Award, Jewish Book Council of America, 1950, for The Wall; Sidney Hillman Foundation Award, 1951, for The Wall; Howland Medal, Yale University, 1952; National Association of Independent Schools Award, 1957, for A Single Pebble; Tuition Plan Award, 1961; Sarah Josepha Hale Award, 1963; named honorary fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, 1967. Honorary degrees: M.A., Yale University, 1947; L.H.D., New School for Social Research, 1950, Syracuse University, 1983; LL.D., Washington and Jefferson College, 1950; D.H.L., Dropsie College, 1950; Litt.D., Wesleyan University, 1954, Bridgeport University, 1959, Clarkson College of Technology, 1972, University of New Haven, 1975, Yale University, 1984, Monmouth College, 1985, William and Mary College, 1987, Albertus Magnus College, 1988.


Men on Bataan, Knopf (New York, NY), 1942.

Into the Valley: A Skirmish of the Marines, Knopf (New York, NY), 1943, published as Into the Valley: Marines at Guadalcanal, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2002.

Hiroshima (first published in New Yorker, August 31, 1946), Knopf (New York, NY), 1946, school edition, Oxford Book Co., 1948.

Here to Stay: Studies on Human Tenacity, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1962, Knopf (New York, NY), 1963.

The Algiers Motel Incident, Knopf (New York, NY), 1968, with an introduction by Thomas J. Sprague, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1997.

(With others) Robert Capa, Paragraphic, 1969.

Letter to the Alumni, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970.

(Editor) Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1973.

(Editor) The Writer's Craft, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

The President, Knopf (New York, NY), 1975.

Aspects of the Presidency: Truman and Ford in Office, Ticknor & Fields, 1980.

Blues, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

(Author of commentary) John Armour and Peter Wright, Manzanar, Times, 1988.

Life Sketches, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

Key West Tales (stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Also author of Fling and Other Stories, 1990. Author of introduction to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by Walker Evans, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY).


A Bell for Adano, Knopf (New York, NY), 1944, with new foreword by Hersey, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1946.

The Wall, Knopf (New York, NY), 1950.

The Marmot Drive, Knopf (New York, NY), 1953.

A Single Pebble, Knopf (New York, NY), 1956.

The War Lover, Knopf (New York, NY), 1959.

The Child Buyer, Knopf (New York, NY), 1960.

White Lotus, Knopf (New York, NY), 1965.

Too Far to Walk, Knopf (New York, NY), 1966.

Under the Eye of the Storm, Knopf (New York, NY), 1967.

The Conspiracy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.

My Petition for More Space, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

The Walnut Door, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

The Call: An American Missionary in China, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Antonietta, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

ADAPTATIONS: A Bell for Adano was adapted as a stage play by Paul Osborn and first produced at the Cort Theater, New York, 1944, and filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox, 1945; The Wall was dramatized by Millard Lampell and first produced at the Billy Rose Theater, New York, 1960, and filmed for television by Columbia Broadcasting System, 1982; The War Lover was filmed by Columbia Pictures, 1962; The Child Buyer was adapted as a stage play by Paul Shyre and first produced at the University of Michigan Professional Theater Program, Ann Arbor, 1964.

SIDELIGHTS: In his article "The Novel of Contemporary History" published in the Atlantic in 1949, John Hersey stated: "Fiction is a clarifying agent. It makes truth plausible. Who had even a tenable theory about the Soviet purge trials until he had read Koestler's Darkness at Noon? Who understood the impact of Italian Fascism upon peasants, on the one hand, and upon thinking men, on the other, until he had read Silone's Fontamara and Bread and Wine? What is argued here is only this much: among all the means of communication now available, imaginative literature comes closer than any other to being able to give an impression of the truth."

This use of imaginative literature to present historical truth was one of Hersey's major concerns. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Bell for Adano is set in an Italian village occupied by American troops during World War II; The Wall is set in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw at the close of that war; and Hersey's nonfictional work Hiroshima uses fictional techniques to present its story of Japanese atom bomb survivors. "Hersey [has] dedicated himself to the goal of chronicling the events and issues of his time," Sam B. Girgus noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

"Hersey is an impressive figure in contemporary American letters," wrote Nancy L. Huse in her study The Survival Tales of John Hersey. Huse finds in Hersey's work "a mind rebelling at the age's acceptance of nuclear weapons, the Holocaust, racism, and the annihilation of the individual in a technological society." This attitude "places Hersey as an intellectual contemporary of Bellow, Wright, Mailer and Agee," Huse argued. Similarly, Eva Hoffman, writing in the New York Times, noted that "it has been John Hersey's virtue as teacher and public figure … that, against all odds and the grain of the times, he has sustained the idea of writing as a moral mission." Jonathan Yardley, writing in the Washington Post Book World, found that "Hersey's decency is both transparent and transcendent. He cares about matters that deserve to be cared about, and he writes about them with palpable passion."

Although best known for his novels, Hersey was also an accomplished writer of short stories. He completed his final collection of stories, Key West Tales, shortly before his death in 1993. The collection, noted Alan Ryan in the Washington Post Book World, "confirms once again his mastery of the [short story] form." The fifteen stories are divided into two camps: seven are conventional stories dealing mostly with life in contemporary Key West, Florida; the other eight are short, italicized vignettes presenting Key West's history from the early 1800s to the 1950s. The contemporary stories cover such subjects as an English professor's battle with AIDS, a Cuban woman's first love, and a meeting between a young man and his mother, who gave him up for adoption when he was an infant. The historical vignettes, on the other hand, feature appearances by such famous residents of Key West as Ernest Hemingway, John James Audubon, and Harry S Truman. Reviewers praised Hersey's final effort for its lucid prose and wryly drawn characters. Writing in World Literature Today, Ronald Curran remarked that "One after the other, the cards in Hersey's Key West poker game amuse and delight." Likewise, Ryan commented that Key West Tales "has all the marks of a master who knows what readers want: a good story; characters who, but for the grace of God, might be us; and writing as bright and clear as ice." "This is the last of [Hersey's] work," concluded George Garrett in the New York Times Book Review, "and we can be sad about that, but still able to rejoice in the final bright gift he has given us."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 7, 1977, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 40, 1986, Volume 81, 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Huse, Nancy Lyman, John Hersey and James Agee: A Reference Guide, G.K. Hall (New York, NY), 1978.

Huse, Nancy Lyman, The Survival Tales of John Hersey, Whitston, 1983.

Sanders, David, John Hersey, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1967.

Sanders, David, John Hersey Revisited, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1991.


Atlantic, November, 1949; April, 1966.

Book Week, September 26, 1965.

Commonweal, March 5, 1965.

Detroit Free Press, March 25, 1993, p. 6B.

Facts on File, April 1, 1993.

Life, March 18, 1966.

National Observer, February 8, 1965.

Newsweek, January 25, 1965; June 7, 1965.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, August 29, 1946; March 5, 1950; August 20, 1950; June 3, 1956; September 25, 1960.

New York Times, April 22, 1985; March 25, 1993.

New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1944; February 26, 1950; June 10, 1956; September 25, 1960; January 19, 1965; February 28, 1966; May 10, 1987; May 19, 1991; February 13, 1994, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1985.

Saturday Review, November 2, 1946; March 4, 1950; June 2, 1956; January 23, 1965.

Time, June 4, 1956; January 29, 1965; March 25, 1966.

Times Literary Supplement, December 7, 1946.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 13, 1994, p. 3.

Washington Post Book World, October 16, 1977; August 7, 1994, p. 6.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1994, p. 812.

Yale Review, winter, 1987.



Detroit Free Press, March 25, 1993, p. 6B.

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