Porter, Joe Ashby 1942–

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Porter, Joe Ashby 1942–

(Joseph Ashby Porter)


Born July 21, 1942, in KY; son of Lawrence (a machinist and coal miner) and Margaret Porter. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1964; Pembroke College, Oxford University, graduate study, 1964-65; University of California, Berkeley, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1973.


Home—Durham, NC. Office—Department of English, 314 Allen Bldg., Duke University, Durham, NC 27708. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and writer. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, assistant professor of English, 1970-73; University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, assistant professor of English, 1976-77; Towson State University (formerly Towson State College), Towson, MD, assistant professor, 1976-77; Shoreline Community College, Seattle, WA, assistant professor of English, 1977-78; Murray State University, Murray, KY, assistant professor of English, 1978-80; Duke University, Durham, NC, assistant professor, 1980-88, associate professor, 1988-95, professor of English and theater studies, 1995—.

Also has served as visiting professor at the Université François-Rabelais in Tours, France, and as writer in residence at Brown University, Providence, RI. Has served twice as an instructor at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Sewanee, TN.


Modern Language Association of America, Associated Writing Programs, South Atlantic Modern Language Association (president, 1992-93).


Fulbright fellowship, 1964-65; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship, 1979-80; PEN syndicated fiction award, 1983; Pulitzer Prize nomination for The Kentucky Stories; Academy Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Literature, 2004.



Eelgrass, New Directions (New York, NY), 1977.

Resident Aliens, New Amsterdam (Chicago, IL), 2000.

The Near Future, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2006.

All Aboard, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2008.


The Kentucky Stories, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1983.

Lithuania: Short Stories, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1990.

Touch Wood: Short Stories, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2002.


The Drama of Speech Acts: Shakespeare's Lancastrian Tetralogy, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1979.

Shakespeare's Mercutio: His History and Drama, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1989.

(Editor) Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, G.K. Hall (New York, NY), 1997.

Work represented in anthologies, including God: Stories; Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories; This Is Where We Live: New North Carolina Short Stories; Voices from Home: The North Carolina Prose Anthology; and Cardinal: A Contemporary Anthology of Fiction and Poetry.

Contributor of articles and stories to periodicals, including Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Carolina Quarterly, Duke, Michigan Quarterly Review, Fiction, Mid-American Review, Witness, Fiction International, Raritan, New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Madrid, and St. Andrews Review.


Joe Ashby Porter is an accomplished novelist and short story writer. His novel Resident Aliens follows the complicated love lives of two couples living in the same rented house in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1974. Jean-Luc, a college professor, and Irene, a reporter, are a French married couple who no longer have a physical relationship. Irene and Mouse, an Oneida Indian, are lesbian partners. Eventually, Jean-Luc takes on a young lover named Chantal, which only serves to raise the tensions of the conflicts that are already simmering beneath the surface of the characters' daily lives. In the process of telling the story, the author provides insights into how each character perceives the love lives of the different housemates. Bonnie Johnston, writing in Booklist, called Resident Aliens "a strange and sometimes charming study in intimacy." Lambda Book Report contributor Pam Keesey noted that "some passages work as vignettes, short-short stories that give us insight into worried minds in awkward circumstances."

Porter's short story collections include Lithuania: Short Stories, The Kentucky Stories, and Touch Wood: Short Stories. Lithuania, published in 1990, features stories set in diverse locales, from Tunisia to the United States. In one tale that takes place in Canada, an old man ponders the meaning of life as he looks for his parrot, Sinbad, who has gone missing. Another story focuses on a haggard, overweight woman, whose neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, leading her to suspect that she soon may be out of a home. "The stories meander along, with no startling plot developments but with a delightfully wry realism," noted Penny Kaganoff in a review for Publishers Weekly.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Touch Wood "varied and accomplished" and "smart, hard, and rewarding." The stories range from the title tale about a missed phone call and its ramifications to a French lighthouse keeper to a sidewalk hair wrapper and how he interacts with his various clients.

In a review of Touch Wood for Booklist, James O'Laughlin noted the author's "keen sense of the unusual and the ironic in the everyday." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Porter's "agile mind and unusual take on even the most mundane elements of people's daily routines make this a challenging but constantly entertaining read."

In his 2006 novel, The Near Future, Porter tells the humorous story of a quartet that gets involved in a pyramid scheme. "As the title suggests, the action in The Near Future takes place in a brave new world of sorts, though it's not all that different from ours," wrote David Kirby for the New York Times Book Review. "This isn't hard-core science fiction, just conventional storytelling ratcheted up a notch."

Denise and her boyfriend, Tink, are the ones who originally set out to become involved in the moneymaking plan in The Near Future. They are joined, though, by Denise's grandfather, Vince, when the duo stops to visit Denise's grandparents in Manatee, Florida. Vince, however, is separated from Denise's grandmother and, upon joining Denise and Tink in their quest for riches, brings along his eccentric, sixty-eight-year-old friend Lola, known to do her gardening naked. The quartet then heads off to Key West, Florida, to meet up with a group of drug traffickers who apparently want to use Tink's pyramid scheme to launder their cash. Donna Seaman wrote in a review for Booklist that the author creates a "hilarious blend of the plausible and the futuristic" in this "cleverly rambunctious tale of love refused and love won." Kirby noted: "The Near Future is an exceedingly odd book yet also … a genuinely endearing one."

Porter, who has lived in France and speaks the language, once told CA that French literature is one of the major influences on his work. He has also lived in England and North Africa.

Porter once commented: "A few years ago I taught a class I called ‘ultrafiction,’ in which the students and I tried to give the term a meaning by teasing out affinities among a group of twentieth-century works that had long seemed to me akin, and kin to my own fiction. We agreed that, unlike conventional fiction in which the page serves as a transparent window giving onto the story, and unlike kinds of metafiction in which the page tends toward presentational opacity, ultrafiction shelters itself with neither ploy. Ultrafiction rather offers a steady expanded cognizance of the story as imagined and told. While I most obviously push in this directions in some recent short stories, I believe even my more ostensibly conventional work, such as my novel Resident Aliens, also has an ultrafictional dimension."



Booklist, September 15, 2000, Bonnie Johnston, review of Resident Aliens, p. 219; September 1, 2002, James O'Laughlin, review of Touch Wood: Short Stories, p. 60; March 15, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of The Near Future, p. 28.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Touch Wood, p. 912.

Lambda Book Report, November, 2000, Pam Keesey, "Cries, Whispers and Annoyances," review of Resident Aliens, p. 22.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 2006, David Kirby, "Virtual Surreality," review of The Near Future, p. 15.

Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of Lithuania: Short Stories, p. 53; September 23, 2002, review of Touch Wood, p. 51.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2003, Peter Donahue, review of Touch Wood, p. 157.


Duke University Department of English Web site,http://www.english.duke.edu/ (August 1, 2008), author faculty profile.

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