Dunbar, Wylene (Wisby) 1949-

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DUNBAR, Wylene (Wisby) 1949-

(W. W. Michaud)


Born January 4, 1949, in Sterling, KS; daughter of Wiley M. Wisby (a wheat farmer) and Charlene Velma Schoonover (an artist; maiden name, Basnett). Education: Wichita State University, B.S. (cum laude), 1970; Vanderbilt University, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1973; University of Mississippi, J.D., 1982.


Home—Nevada City, CA. Agent—Philip Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency, 50 Talmage Farm Lane, East Hampton, NY 11937.


Writer. University of Mississippi, Oxford, assistant professor of philosophy, 1977-82, visiting associate professor, 1988, adjunct professor of law, 1993; Holcomb, Dunbar, Connell, Chaffin & Willard, Oxford, MS, lawyer, 1982-97.


American Bar Association, Mississippi State Bar, Phi Kappa Phi.


Outstanding Achievement in Fiction, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, 1998, for Margaret Cape.


Margaret Cape: A Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

My Life with Corpses, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of the short story, "My Life with Corpses," to South Dakota Review, winter, 1991-92, under name W. W. Michaud.


Wylene Dunbar, a former philosophy professor and lawyer, is the author of Margaret Cape: A Novel and My Life with Corpses. Dunbar first entertained thoughts of becoming a writer after completing her doctorate at Vanderbilt University, but, as she stated on her Web site, "I was twenty-four. I had nothing to say." Dunbar taught philosophy at the University of Mississippi from 1977 to 1982 before entering law school. After ten years as a civil trial lawyer, she returned to writing, initially penning "My Life with Corpses" as a short story before publishing her first novel, Margaret Cape, in 1997.

Margaret Cape received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction. Told in flashbacks, the work concerns an elderly woman who emerges from a catatonic state to ensure that her home is restored to its rightful heirs. As a young nurse in Boston, Margaret Finley falls in love with Big John Cape, an aging plantation owner. They marry, and Big John brings Margaret to Cape Plantation in Rosamond, Mississippi. After Big John's death, Margaret ignores social conventions and marries his son, the violent John Buie, with whom she has two children of her own, John Buie III and Chapin. When John Buie III and his father both die on the same day, Margaret descends into silence, awakening decades later when Chapin dies and the plantation is threatened by developers. "In part a legal suspense drama, in part an exquisitely nuanced picture of life in the Deep South, Dunbar's debut is above all about the pull of the inner life," a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated. Reviewing Margaret Cape in Library Journal, Ellen R. Cohen stated, "This gentle tale is told in a slow, measured cadence that skips around chronologically, much like an old person's memories."

My Life with Corpses, Dunbar's second novel, is a "quirky exploration of the thin line between life and death," according to Booklist contributor Margaret Flanagan. The story is narrated by Oz, a Kansas farm girl who was raised by a family of "corpses." Devoid of human feelings, Oz is rescued by a kindly neighbor who mentors her and sends her to college. As she begins to navigate unfamiliar emotional terrain, Oz realizes that many of the people she encounters are corpses themselves, sharing the world with the living. According to Library Journal critic Kellie Gillespie, the novel's plot is less significant than Oz's realization that "she is the one ultimately in control of her life."

My Life with Corpses received mixed reviews. A critic in Kirkus Reviews stated that "the reader can't help but consider the premise provocative—what, after all, are the distinguishing features of the truly 'alive'?—but it's an exploration decidedly inert." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, called the work "an uncannily convincing evocation of death and its counterpart, life." Kelly Mayhew, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, remarked that "Dunbar's novel is surprisingly upbeat, and leaves readers with much to meditate on: From atomized communities to empty consumerism, many of us have a surprising ability to deaden ourselves to what really counts."



Booklist, May 15, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of My Life with Corpses, p. 1596.

Daily Mississippian, June 16, 1997, Sarah Dill, "Margaret Cape Captures the South."

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of My Life with Corpses, p. 347.

Library Journal, May 15, 1997, Ellen R. Cohen, review of Margaret Cape, p. 99; April 15, 2004, Kellie Gillespie, review of My Life with Corpses, p. 123.

Publishers Weekly, March 24, 1997, review of Margaret Cape, p. 59; April 12, 2004, review of My Life with Corpses, p. 36.

San Diego Union-Tribune, June 20, 2004, Kelly Mayhew, "Deadheads."


Film Threat,http://www.filmthreat.com/ (July 27, 2004), David Templeton, "Talking Pictures: Bot & Sold," interview.

Written Voices Radio,http://www.writtenvoices.com/ (June 7, 2004), "Authors: Wylene Dunbar."

Wylene Dunbar Web site,http://www.wylenedunbar.com (October 22, 2004).*

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