McNally, John 1965–

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McNally, John 1965–

(John Raymond McNally)


Born November 8, 1965, in Oak Lawn, IL; son of Robert (a roofer) and Margie (a factory worker) McNally; married Amy Knox Brown (a writer). Education: Southern Illinois University, B.A., 1987; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1989; University of Nebraska, Ph.D., 1999.


Home—Winston-Salem, NC. Office—Wake Forest University, English Department, P.O. Box 7387, Reynolda Station, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. Agent—Jenny Bent, Agent Trident Media Group, LLC 41 Madison Ave., 36th Fl., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected].


University of South Florida, Tampa, visiting assistant professor, 2000-01; George Washington University, Washington DC, visiting writer, 2001-02; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, associate professor, 2002-05, Ollen R. Nalley assistant professor of English, 2006—.


James Michener fellowship, University of Iowa Writers Workshop, 1991-92; Djerassi fiction fellowship, Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, 1998-99; Margaret Bridgman scholarship, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1999; University of Iowa John Simmons short-fiction award, 2000, and Nebraska Book Award, 2001, both for Troublemakers; Jenny McKean Moore fellowship, George Washington University, 2001-02; Chesterfield Writer's Film Project Fellowship, Paramount Pictures, 2003-04; Archie grants, Wake Forest University, 2003, 2005, and 2006; Archie Thomas Williams fellowship in fiction, Christopher Isherwood Foundation, 2004; Young Alumni Achievement Award, University of Nebraska, 2006; Outstanding Alumni Award, College of Liberal Arts, Southern Illinois University, 2006.


Troublemakers (short story collection), University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2000.

The Book of Ralph (novel), Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.

America's Report Card, Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.


High Infidelity: Twenty-five Great Short Stories about Adultery by Some of Our Best Contemporary Authors, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.

The Student Body: Short Stories about College Students and Professors, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2001.

Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2002.

(And author of introduction) Bottom of the Ninth: Great Contemporary Baseball Short Stories, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2003.

When I Was a Loser, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.


Also author of America's Report Card Web log, located at Contributing editor, Virginia Quarterly Review. Contributor to anthologies, including With Love and Squalor: Fourteen Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger, Broadway Books, 2001; The Iowa Award: The Best Stories, 1991-2000, edited by Frank Conroy, University of Iowa Press (Ames, IA), 2001; A Different Plain: Contemporary Nebraska Fiction Writers, edited by Ladette Randolph, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2004; and Some Kind of Wonderful: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007. Contributor to periodicals, including Open City, Chelsea, North American Review, New England Review, Florida Review, Glimmer Train, Idaho Review, Punk Planet, Colorado Review, Sonora Review, Crescent Review, Washington Post, Progressive, and Columbia.


John McNally is an author and editor of award-winning fiction. His first collection, Troublemakers, consists of ten short stories and a novella about lower-middle-class men and boys driven to what Rob Thomas called in his review for the Capital Times, "desperate acts … usually hilarious, or at least head-scratchingly bizarre. Even if you've never waited in a dry reservoir for an imaginary Styx concert, played in an ‘air band,’ or tried to sell a trunkload of bootleg Tootsie Rolls to get out of a jam, you'll recognize the human impulses behind them." Three stories—"The Vomitorium," "Smoke," and "The Grand Illusion,"—are connected and take place in the 1970s on Chicago's southwest side. Hank, the narrator, is a good kid at heart who hangs out with Ralph, "a juvenile delinquent so loopy," according to Thomas, "that his anti-social ways are almost endearing." In fact, several of McNally's narrators bear a similar relationship to the other characters in the stories. Although personally involved, they are the ones watching with what Thomas called "a look of mingled awe and disdain on their faces…. Troublemakers confirms McNally's status as a major and exciting new talent."

As editor of four collections of short stories, McNally has received equally enthusiastic reviews. In High Infidelity: Twenty-four Great Short Stories about Adultery by Some of Our Best Contemporary Authors McNally chose stories by well-known authors such as John Updike, Bharati Mukherjee, Margaret Atwood, and T. Coraghessan Boyle, to name just a few, as well as some less-seasoned but talented ones. All the stories are about forbidden relationships. In his introduction, McNally writes: "Adultery, I suspect, has been with us since the dawn of man. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn of hieroglyphics on cave walls documenting infidelities and indiscretions, sketched by some woebegone or cuckolded Cro-Magnon," then mentions many infamous infidelities throughout history. Mark Graham noted in his review for Rocky Mountain News that McNally gathered these stories from "major and obscure magazines and anthologies, so it is unlikely that any reader will have read many of them."

Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color grew out of McNally's frustrations while preparing a course on humor in American literature and found almost no representation of minority writers. This representative sampling of works encompasses different genres such as poetry, cartoons, drama, and fiction. McNally notes that not all those represented identify themselves as humorists; that race is not the central theme; and that the role of humor is broadly represented, flowing around such universals as ambition, ladder-climbing, and sex. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented: "Given McNally's multigenre approach, the lack of bigger names here—cartoonist Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) comes immediately to mind—make this book feel like an academic exercise, despite McNally's best intentions."

The stories in The Student Body: Short Stories about College Students and Professors examine campus life. In his introduction, McNally writes: "University campuses, small and large, are treasure-troves of material for fiction writers." And in this collection are stories by a diverse group of authors such as Stephen King, Thisbe Nissen, Marly Swick, and Ron Carlson. The book is divided into two sections: one from the students' perspectives, and the other from the educators' viewpoints. Richard Russo contributes a tale about an elderly nun who chronicles her life in a creative writing class, Amy Knox Brown examines fraternity life in her story, and Gillian Kendall describes a professor's secret desire for a student. Kristine Huntley commented in Booklist: "This excellent collection captures both the passion and isolation in academia."

Set in southwest Chicago in the late 1970s, The Book of Ralph, McNally's debut novel, follows the misadventures of eighth-grader Hank Boyd and his scheming, twice-flunked buddy, Ralph. "Loosely bonded by Hank's qualified admiration and Ralph's pleasure in having a semi-capable assistant," observed a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "the boys begin to test the tolerance of the community for their brand of largely victimless small crime." The work unfolds as a series of interconnected stories detailing the boy's various escapades. In one episode, they spend a day dressed up as Sesame Street Muppet characters Big Bird and Snuffleupagus to help promote a new auto dealership; in another, they plot a big a score with Ralph's cousin, Norm, an ex-convict who tries to sell a trunk of stolen Tootsie Rolls. "McNally's talent for characterization and his lush sense of place make for funny and oddly compelling reading," remarked Booklist contributor John Green. Though a reviewer in Publisher Weekly also praised the author's humorous prose, the critic noted that "the seriousness of Hank's parents' constant smoking, bickering and their inevitable breakup is subtly conveyed, and McNally nicely captures Hank's pubescent angst, naiveté and insecurity."

McNally followed The Book of Ralph with a second novel, America's Report Card, "a satiric, paranoid look at the dastardly machinations behind standardized testing," reported a contributor in Publishers Weekly. After finishing graduate school, a heartbroken Charlie Wolf lands a job with a national testing service in Iowa City. When he comes across a disturbing essay written by high school student Jainey O'Sullivan, a conspiracy theorist who believes her art teacher was killed by the government, Charlie decides he must rescue the girl from a terrible fate, little realizing someone is tracking his movements. "Set in Iowa City and Chicago just before the 2004 Presidential election," summarized Karen Palmer on the Elegant Variation Web log, "the story skewers life under George W. Bush, from the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of standardized testing for the ‘No Child Left Behind’ program to the increased surveillance of American citizens under the Patriot Act." Writing in Booklist, Donna Seaman praised the novel's "crisp dialogue, superb pacing, and compassionate regard for humankind."



American Book Reviews, January 1, 2005, Greg Oaks, review of The Book of Ralph, p. 30.

Booklist, July, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of High Infidelity: Twenty-four Great Short Stories about Adultery by Some of Our Best Contemporary Authors, p. 1796; September 15, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of The Student Body: Stories about College Students and Professors, p. 197; March 15, 2004, John Green, review of The Book of Ralph, p. 1266; June 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of America's Report Card, p. 38.

Capital Times (Madison, WI), October 13, 2000, Rob Thomas, "Creating Chaos Is Hilarious Fun in Bizarre Tales of Troublemakers," p. 9A; January 1, 2004, review of The Book of Ralph, p. 10; June 1, 2006, review of America's Report Card, p. 539.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of The Book of Ralph, p. 10.

Library Journal, March 15, 2002, A.J. Anderson, review of Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color, p. 81.

People Weekly, August 18, 1997, Francine Prose, review of High Infidelity, p. 40.

Publishers Weekly, September 11, 2000, review of Troublemakers, p. 66; February 11, 2002, review of Humor Me, p. 169; January 12, 2004, review of The Book of Ralph, p. 36; May 29, 2006, review of America's Report Card, p. 37.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), July 27, 1997, Mark Graham, "Anthology Gives Adultery Its Due," p. 2E.

School Library Journal, March, 2001, Emily Lloyd, review of Troublemakers, p. 282.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 16, 2006, Lynna Williams, "A Satire about Conspiracies Real and Imagined," review of America's Report Card.

Virginia Quarterly Review, March 16, 2004, Stephanie Kuehnert, "An Interview with John McNally."


Elegant Variation, (July 24, 2006), Karen Palmer, "Guest Interview: John McNally."

John McNally Home Page, (May 1, 2007).

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McNally, John 1965–

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