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Payne, David 1955- (William David Payne)

Payne, David 1955- (William David Payne)


Born April 13, 1955, in Henderson, NC; married; children: two. Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, B.A. (highest honors), 1977.


Home—NC. Agent—Tina Bennett, c/o Janklow & Nesbit, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022-2606. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer. Has worked as a commercial fisherman and writing instructor.


Houghton Mifflin fellowship, 1984.


Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street: A Chinese American Romance, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984, Plume (New York, NY), 2004.

Early from the Dance, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989, Plume (New York, NY), 2003.

Ruin Creek, Doubleday, 1993.

Gravesend Light: A Novel, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

Back to Wando Passo, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.


Books adapted for audio, including Back to Wando Passo.


David Payne has published a number of critically acclaimed novels. An essayist for Contemporary Southern Writers wrote that Payne "displays the skills so evident in the finest Southern writers, an ear for colloquial speech, an appreciation of the relationship between characters and place, and a willingness to look for moral realities within the confusion of contemporary life."

Payne made his literary debut in 1984 with the novel Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street: A Chinese-American Romance, for which he was awarded a Houghton Mifflin fellowship. The story of a Chinese-American Taoist priest who leaves a Chinese monastery to work on Wall Street, and in the process searches for his missing father, was received favorably. A Library Journal reviewer dubbed the novel "a grand literary romance." D. Keith Mano, in his commentary for the National Review, chalked up Payne's faults as youthful indiscretions: "Taoist … lacks concision and self-discipline…. Give Payne time and maturing…. There is enormous talent here." Washington Post contributor Joseph McLellan praised the book's "glorious style and rich profusion of detail…. It is, for all its length, a book to be read twice—first to be gulped down in great chunks during sleepless nights; later to be sipped slowly, savoring details, like a well-brewed cup of tea."

Early from the Dance is a novel of youthful innocence shattered. The work is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the coastal region of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks, where Payne was raised. The plot revolves around two friends, Adam and Cary, who fall in love with the same woman, Jane, and who suffer dire consequences. While Cary commits suicide, Adam lives with unrelenting remorse. Years later, when Adam and Jane meet again, the reader is given glimpses into the former lovers' lives through chapters told in first person that alternate between the two characters. "Early from the Dance is a substantial achievement, a book capacious enough to include the dazzlingly obvious and even the false," maintained Richard Dyer, for the Boston Globe. Writing for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Gary Marmorstein commented: "The sexually charged tango that Adam and Jane do with two older partners is choreographed with sinewy definition and split-second time. This, the bulk of the book, is David Payne in top form, and it's some of the strongest, most demanding writing to be found in American fiction." "Best of all," concluded Dyer, "Payne has the deepest human sympathy for his characters and knowledge of the heart; everyone in the book comes alive."

Like Early from the Dance, Payne's novel Ruin Creek treats the theme of loss. It is the chronicle of a dying marriage told from viewpoints that alternate between the husband, wife, and son. Dyer, in his assessment of the novel, declared: "David Payne may not be the most publicized American novelist homing in on 40, but he is certainly the most gifted." According to Tim McLaurin in the New York Times Book Review, "Payne knows the hopes, fears and habits of his characters, and weaves a powerful, lyrical story for them that is a joy to read." A Dallas Morning News contributor declared: "David Payne is the most gifted American novelist of his generation. Certainly no other young writer has published three more impressive books."

Payne again sets his story in North Carolina in Gravesend Light: A Novel. A family drama combined with a romantic affair, the novel tells of Joe Madden, a young anthropologist who moves to the fishing community of Little Roanoke to study the local way of life. Madden is interested in the town because little has changed for many years, with the fishermen pursuing their trade in traditional ways. He soon falls in love with Day Shaughnessy, a doctor, and signs on to work on a fishing boat to get first-hand experience of the industry. Day's unplanned pregnancy and a violent storm while Madden is at sea provide tension and suspense to a story of love and family relationships. A Kirkus Reviews critic wrote: "Payne's portrait of Little Roanoke's fishing community is rich and convincing." GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist called Gravesend Light "a story rich in color and sentiment, both rip-roaring and romantic."

Payne interweaves voodoo, sex, and biracial relationships within two troubled marriages in Back to Wando Passo. One of the troubled marriages is between bipolar Ransom Hill, a former rock star, and his wife, Claire, who left him and took their two children to her family home, a former plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. Ransom has relationships to heal, the one with Claire, and another with Marcel Jones, the former drummer with his band who is now dean at the college where Claire, a former concert pianist, teaches music. When Ransom excavates a historical site on the plantation, he unearths ceremonial objects and the bodies of former master of the house Harlan Delay and his wife Addie. In her narration, Addie reveals her love affair with Harlan's black brother, and Harlan tells of his father's love of his slave, a black Cuban woman, and of his marriage to Addie as a way to escape the relationship. Claire is attracted to Marcel, who is also black. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Payne fashions elaborate prose and touching characterization into an absorbing tale." Booklist Michele Leber felt that "Payne handles this novel of love, loss, and betrayal deftly."



Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Bloomsbury Review, July, 1994, review of Ruin Creek, p. 19.

Booklist, October 1, 1993, review of Ruin Creek, p. 254; July, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Gravesend Light: A Novel, p. 2009; April 1, 2006, Michele Leber, review of Back to Wando Passo, p. 21.

Boston Globe, September 25, 1989, Richard Dyer, review of Early from the Dance, p. 61; October 12, 1993, Richard Dyer, review of Ruin Creek, p. 30.

Dallas Morning News, October 10, 1993, review of Ruin Creek.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1993, review of Ruin Creek, p. 962; June 15, 2000, review of Gravesend Light, pp. 825-826; May 1, 2006, review of Back to Wando Passo, p. 434.

Library Journal, November, 1984, review of Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street: A Chinese-American Novel; September 15, 1993, review of Ruin Creek, p. 106; March 15, 2006, Barbara Hoffert, review of Back to Wando Passo, p. 64.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 22, 1989, Gary Marmorstein, review of Early from the Dance, p. 7.

National Review, April 5, 1985, D. Keith Mano, review of Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, p. 55.

New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1984, Merlin Wexler, review of Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, p. 30; November 26, 1989, Brock Cole, review of Early from the Dance, p. 30; October 24, 1993, Tim McLaurin, review of Ruin Creek, p. 18.

People, October 9, 1989, Susan Toepfer, review of Early from the Dance, pp. 36-37.

Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1993, review of Ruin Creek, p. 58; June 12, 2000, review of Gravesend Light, p. 51; May 15, 2006, review of Back to Wando Passo, p. 50.

Washington Post Book World, December 9, 1984, Joseph McLellan, review of Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, pp. 5-6.


David Payne Home Page, (February 24, 2007).

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