Black, Stephen A(mes) 1935-

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BLACK, Stephen A(mes) 1935-

PERSONAL:

Born 1935; married; children: one. Education: California State College, B.A., 1960, M.A., 1961; University of Washington, Ph.D. (English), 1964; earned degree from Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute, 1977.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of English, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Educator, psychoanalytic researcher, and author. Monmouth College, Monmouth, NJ, assistant professor of English, 1964-66, assistant professor, 1966-69, associate professor of English, 1969-74; Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, professor, 1974-2000, professor emeritus, 2000—. Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute, Seattle, WA, affiliate instructor.

WRITINGS:

James Thurber: His Masquerades; A Critical Study ("Studies in American Literature" series; Volume 23), Mouton (The Hague, Netherlands), 1970.

Whitman's Journeys into Chaos: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Poetic Process, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1975.

File on O'Neill, Metheun (London, England), 1993.

Eugene O'Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1999.

(With the Eugene O'Neill Society) Jason Robards Remembered: Essays and Recollections, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS:

Stephen A. Black is the author of a number of books, including Whitman's Journeys into Chaos: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Poetic Process. In the book, Black discusses Walt Whitman's output from 1855 to 1865. Black feels that most of Whitman's important poems were written prior to 1860, with some exceptions being "Lilacs," "Passage to India," "Prayer of Columbus," and several U.S. Civil War poems. Library Journal reviewer William White said that Black "links Whitman's early fiction to his mature poems and skillfully interprets several great lyrics in Freudian terms." A Choice reviewer noted that some sections of the book "are speculative," but felt that Black's conclusions "provide fresh insights into 'Song of Myself' and other poems selected for analysis."

David M. Wyatt wrote in the Georgia Review that "Black's greatest service is to show that Whitman's aspirations toward a sublime, 'wordless communion' with his reader fulfill regressive rather than mystical goals." American Literature contributor James E. Miller, Jr., remarked that Black's "review of the evolution of the 'Calamus' poems and his reexamination of the famous correspondence between John Addington Symonds and Whitman are original and interesting."

Reviewing Eugene O'Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy, Booklist critic Jack Helbig said that although there has been a great deal written about the playwright (1888-1953), "little of it attains the depth and power of Black's absorbing, meticulously researched, intelligently written biography." Library Journal reviewer Susan L. Peters wrote that Black "demonstrates convincingly that there is indeed more to say."

Black drew material for Eugene O'Neill from thousands of letters in the Shaeffer-O'Neill collection at the Shain Library of Connecticut College. He notes that O'Neill was in contact with psychoanalysts during the 1920s and that O'Neill's work was a form of self-analysis, particularly in exploring his relationships with his parents and brother and in dealing with their deaths, which all came during the first three years of O'Neill's career. "While this premise may sound simplistic, Black's examination of its manifestations in O'Neill's art is rich and complex," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. In considering O'Neill's later plays, including Long Day's Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten, Black demonstrates that there are comic elements that are often overlooked.

O'Neill suffered from depression and physical illnesses for most of his life, some of it brought on by his youthful use of alcohol, and, later in life, from medical drugs. New Leader's Albert Bermel said that Black "steers us through the story of a protagonist who, for suffering and defiance, rivals his own outsized heroes and heroines.… Black is a sound scholar, a good drama critic and a sensitive narrator. He dips respectfully into the work of his predecessors." Black argues that O'Neill's plays, particularly Desire under the Elms and More Stately Mansions, deal with an Oedipal complex. Bermel felt that Black is incorrect, commenting that O'Neill "would hardly have mistaken either attraction for a stepmother, or a contest between a wife and mother, for an oedipal setup. The partial case history Black teases patiently out of O'Neill's confessions and the testimony of others points, rather, to a sibling rivalry involving the witty, fascinating, brash, masochistic Jamie, whose personality appears in most respects the opposite of Eugene's shy, slow-talking intellectual." Both O'Neill and his brother, Jamie, were alcoholics. Jamie died at the age of forty-five, twenty years earlier than his brother. Though Bermel felt that Black misinterpreted the importance of O'Neill's relationship with his brother, he also felt that Black's "observations will prove enlightening to O'Neill spectators and serviceable to actors and directors."

Black told CA: "I've thought of myself as a writer since I was first published at the age of thirteen. I wrote three unpublished novels, many stories, some plays and verse before I was thirty. My favorite writers, beside O'Neill, are Faulkner, Melville, Styron, Welty, and Freud. I have tried to model my prose after Freud and Darwin, whom I consider the clearest writers on complicated matters that I know of.

"The process of writing constantly brings surprises: I frequently discover that I have written something beside or different from what I consciously intended, and realize that the matter is more complicated or has more sides than I previously could see. I used to write very quickly, but the more experienced I've become, the slower I write. When I began planning for the O'Neill biography in 1974, I knew it would take a long time, but did not expect it to be twenty-five years. I could not have guessed how much I would learn, not only from the research in archives, but from the process of making a coherent narrative of a complicated life.

"I hope my writing will give readers the excitement of discoveries and understandings that have gradually unfolded to me as I have thought about the many facets of the lives that I have written about."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Literature, November, 1976, James E. Miller, Jr., review of Whitman's Journeys into Chaos: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Poetic Process, pp. 389-391.

Antioch Review, summer, 1976, review of Whitman's Journeys into Chaos, p. 502.

Booklist, November 1, 1999, Jack Helbig, review of Eugene O'Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy, p. 502.

Choice, September, 1976, review of Whitman's Journeys into Chaos, p. 814; May, 2000, J. M. Ditsky, review of Eugene O'Neill.

Georgia Review, spring, 1977, David M. Wyatt, review of Whitman's Journeys into Chaos, pp. 243-248.

Library Journal, December 1, 1975, William White, review of Whitman's Journeys into Chaos, p. 2250; November 1, 1999, Susan L. Peters, review of Eugene O'Neill, p. 83.

New Leader, December 13, 1999, Albert Bermel, review of Eugene O'Neill, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1999, review of Eugene O'Neill, p. 54.

Theatre Journal, October, 2000, Zander Brietzke, review of Eugene O'Neill, p. 43.