Bigsby, Christopher 1941–

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Bigsby, Christopher 1941–

(C.W.E. Bigsby, Christopher W.E. Bigsby, Christopher William Edgar Bigsby)

PERSONAL:

Born June 27, 1941, in Dundee, Scotland; son of Edgar Edward Leo and Ivy Bigsby; married Pamela Lovelady, October 9, 1965; children: Gareth, Kirsten, Juliet, Ewan. Education: University of Sheffield, B.A., 1962, M.A., 1964; University of Nottingham, Ph.D., 1966.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Norwich, Norfolk, England. Office—School of American Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, lecturer in American literature, 1966-69; University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, lecturer, 1969-73, senior lecturer, 1973-85, professor of American literature, 1985—. British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), presenter of radio arts programs Kaleidoscope, Third Ear, Present Voices, Past Words, The Index, The Archive Hour, and Off the Page, and the radio arts program Meridian for BBC World Service.

MEMBER:

Royal Society of Literature (fellow), British Association of American Studies, Royal Society of Arts (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Barnard Hewitt Award for outstanding research in theater history, from the American Society for Theatre Research; Special Jury Prize for Distinguished Achievement, from the Theatre Library Association; McKitterick Award for best first novel, for Hester; Betty Jean Jones Award for Outstanding Teacher of American Theatre and Drama, from the American Theatre and Drama Society, 2006.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

Confrontation and Commitment: A Study of Contemporary American Drama, 1959-1966, MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1967, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1968.

Edward Albee, Oliver & Boyd (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1969, published as Albee, Chip's Bookshop (New York, NY), 1978.

Dada and Surrealism, Methuen (New York, NY), 1972.

Tom Stoppard, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1976.

The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980.

Joe Orton, Methuen (New York, NY), 1982.

A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), Volume 1: 1900-1940, 1982, Volume 2: Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, 1985, Volume 3: Beyond Broadway, 1985.

David Mamet, Methuen (New York, NY), 1985.

Contemporary American Playwrights, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Arthur Miller: A Critical Study, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Remembering and Imagining the Holocaust: The Chain of Memory, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Neil LaBute: Playwright and Screenwriter, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2008.

NOVELS

Hester: A Novel about the Heroine of the Scarlet Letter, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994.

Pearl, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1995.

Still Lives, Constable (London, England), 1996.

Beautiful Dreamer, Methuen (New York, NY), 2002.

EDITOR

The Black American Writer, two volumes, Everett/Edwards (DeLand, FL), 1969.

Three Negro Plays, Penguin (New York, NY), 1969.

Superculture: American Popular Culture and Europe, Bowling Green University Popular Press (Bowling Green, OH), 1975.

Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1975.

Approaches to Popular Culture, Edward Arnold (Baltimore, MD), 1976.

Contemporary English Drama, Edward Arnold (Baltimore, MD), 1981.

(With Heide Ziegler) The Radical Imagination and the Liberal Tradition: Interviews with English and American Novelists, Junction Books (London, England), 1982.

(With Maurice Connaud and Sergio Perosa) Cultural Change in the United States since World War II, Free University Press (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1986.

Plays by Susan Glaspell, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

Miller on File, Methuen (New York, NY), 1988.

Arthur Miller and Company: Arthur Miller Talks about His Work, Methuen (New York, NY), 1990.

The Portable Arthur Miller, Penguin (New York, NY), 1995, revised edition, 2003.

Nineteenth-Century American Short Stories, Dent (London, England), 1995.

The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Don B. Wilmeth) The Cambridge History of American Theater, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1870, Volume 2: 1870-1945, Volume 3: Post-World War II to the 1990s, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1998-2000.

Modern American Drama: 1945-2000, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Writers in Conversation with Christopher Bigsby, two volumes, Arthur Miller Centre, University of East Anglia (Norwich, England), 2001.

Cambridge Companion to David Mamet, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with Howard Temperley) A New Introduction to American Studies, Longman (New York, NY), 2005.

The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Also coauthor of television plays The After-dinner Game and Stones, both with Malcolm Bradbury; of the radio series Patterson; of the radio play Long Day's Journey; and of television documentaries about John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, and Arthur Miller, all for British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC). General coeditor of "Contemporary Writers" series for Methuen (New York, NY).

SIDELIGHTS:

British academic and author Christopher Bigsby incorporates his interest in the literature of twentieth-century America in his teaching and in the books he writes and edits. Calling Bigsby "one of the most supportive academic critics of American theatre" in Modern Drama, Melanie Blood added that in Contemporary American Playwrights in particular the author advocates a greater appreciation of a number of lesser-known authors, among them Lanford Wilson, Tony Kushner, and Wendy Wasserstein. Blood praised Bigsby for bringing to his work a sensitivity "to the many contemporary American social issues that preoccupy current playwrights and audiences," counting among those issues "gender, sexuality," and "class." In addition to writing in-depth critical works on the high-profile U.S. playwrights Joe Orton, David Mamet, and Tom Stoppard, Bigsby also wrote the three-volume A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, published by the Cambridge University Press and designed as an overview of U.S. theater appropriate for the undergraduate student and general reading public.

In The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Bigsby covers the work of black New Yorkers in the 1960s and early 1970s, and draws parallels with the artistic outpouring that occurred in Harlem during the 1920s. "An intellectual history, this is work of the first order," reported William S. McFeely in the Times Literary Supplement. "Bigsby is neither the guilt-ridden observer who would elevate any black writer into a speaker of a special kind of truth, nor a patronizing one who would subtly convey surprise that black folk can write at all. To be critical is to take seriously, and few books in the field of black cultural history can match the truly critical perspective achieved by the present work." Among the many books edited by Bigsby are several that also touch on African American theater, among them The Black American Writer and Three Negro Plays, both of which were released in 1969.

Arthur Miller: A Critical Study is an in-depth look into the great writer and dramatist. Bigsby's deft literary analysis is greatly aided by his having known Miller for many years on both a personal and a professional level. He details the history of Miller's career and looks at each of his accomplishments in turn. In addition, Bigsby questions Miller's place in American letters and examines how he appeared to have been more accepted and revered abroad than in his own country. While the book received critical praise overall, particularly in light of the timeliness of the publication, which came just before Miller's death, some reviewers noted a certain distance from the subject that resulted in Bigsby's failure to truly address the role of Miller's faith in his work and career. Geoffrey Heptonstall, in a contribution for Contemporary Review, commented on Miller's adherence to his faith and to his fellow Jews, stating that "this continuity, if more cultural than religious, qualifies Miller's lifelong quest for a credible faith in society. One might argue that the quest was made the more navigable by his links, even when tenuous, to the beliefs that had nurtured him." However, Terry Otten, writing for Theatre History Studies, found the book to be "a text of extraordinary thoroughness and insight." Stephen Bottoms, in a contribution for the Modern Language Review, wrote that "the book's play-by-play structure, as well as being easy to navigate if one wants to dip in and out, provides to the reader of the whole a strong sense of accumulating weight in the discussion, as themes and cross-references appear and develop in Bigsby's commentaries."

Beautiful Dreamer, Bigsby's 2002 novel, is a gripping tale of racism and murder set in Tennessee during the early 1900s. A white man attempts to help a black man who is harassed for entering a store. He is brutally beaten for his efforts, and the black man in lynched in front of his son and his would-be rescuer. The boy is traumatized into muteness by his father's murder, yet grateful to the white man for his advocacy, and though he knows that he is further endangering himself, he stays with the white man and sees to his injuries. The pair is forced to go on the run when the brutes who killed the one man and beat the other come back with the intention of finishing the job they started. Reviews for Bigsby's effort were mixed. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book "melodramatic and breathless, generally more heavily focused on the bloody and busy, sometimes superhuman foreground action than the motivation behind events." However, in a review for Booklist, Joanne Wilkinson remarked that "Bigsby brilliantly channels Faulkner in this taut, poetic narrative that has all the hypnotic power of an incantation." Writing for Library Journal, Jim Coan praised Bigsby's ability to capture the atmosphere of the rural American South, despite his British roots, and concluded that "this graphic and suspenseful novel should appeal on many levels."

Bigsby once told CA: "For many years America has been the focus of my work. As an academic I have tended, in recent years, to concentrate on American drama. I am at the moment concluding a biography of Arthur Miller. As a novelist, the American influence is equally clear. My first two books, Hester: A Novel about the Heroine of the Scarlet Letter and Pearl, were, respectively, a ‘prequel’ and a sequel to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. The third novel, Still Lives, was inspired by my opening of an exhibition of the photographs of Lee Miller, though I chose to depart from the details of her life. The fourth novel, Beautiful Dreamer, came out of nowhere and is set, vaguely, in the 1950s, and, vaguely, in Tennessee.

"What interests me is a blend of the lyrical with the sometimes violent and bleak. Language, indeed, is in part the source of redemption. This is at its most obvious in Beautiful Dreamer but is also true, I think, of Still Lives."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Beautiful Dreamer, p. 69.

Choice, February, 2000, M.D. Whitlatch, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 1113; December, 2000, M.D. Whitlatch, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 718; July-August, 2001, R.B. Shuman, review of Modern American Drama: 1945-2000, p. 1956.

Contemporary Review, June 1, 2005, Geoffrey Heptonstall, "Arthur Miller—This Very American Writer," p. 374.

History: Review of New Books, fall, 2000, Amy Henderson, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 6.

Journal of American History, March, 2000, Kim Marra, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 1772.

Journal of American Studies, December, 2001, David J. Evans, review of Contemporary American Playwrights, p. 528, and Kate Rhodes, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 538.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2006, review of Beautiful Dreamer, p. 476.

Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Jim Coan, review of Beautiful Dreamer, p. 106.

Modern Drama, fall, 2000, Barry B. Witham, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 496; summer, 2001, Melanie Blood, review of Contemporary American Playwrights, p. 367; winter, 2001, David Krasner, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 491.

Modern Language Review, January 1, 2007, Stephen Bottoms, review of Arthur Miller: A Critical Study, p. 222.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, March, 2001, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 565.

Notes and Queries, March, 2001, Dave Williams, review of Contemporary American Playwrights, p. 91.

Review of English Studies, August, 2000, Jean Chothia, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 504.

Theatre History Studies, June, 2000, Felicia Hardison Londre, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 175; June, 2001, Daniel J. Watermeier, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 139; January 1, 2006, Terry Otten, review of Arthur Miller, p. 159.

Theatre Journal, October, 2000, Rosemarie K. Bank and Kim Marra, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 427.

Theatre Research International, March, 2002, Adam Piette, review of Contemporary American Playwrights and Modern American Drama, p. 106, and Michael Whitlatch, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 103.

Theatre Survey, May, 2000, Odai Johnson, review of The Cambridge History of American Theater, p. 95.

Times Literary Supplement, February 26, 1970, review of Edward Albee; September 25, 1981, William S. McFeely, review of The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature; September 3, 1982; May 12, 2000, Elaine Showalter, review of Contemporary American Playwrights, p. 10.

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Bigsby, Christopher 1941–

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