Rowley, Hazel 1951–
Rowley, Hazel 1951–
PERSONAL: Born November 16, 1951, in London, England; daughter of Derrick (a scientist) and Betty (a homemaker) Rowley. Education: Adelaide University, B.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1982. Politics: "Left of center."
CAREER: Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, lecturer, 1989–94, senior lecturer, beginning 1995; University of Texas—Austin, resident scholar, 1994–95; affiliated with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.
MEMBER: National Writers Association, Authors Guild, PEN America.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Council Award for Nonfiction (Australia), Walter McRae Russell Award from the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, and New York Times Notable Book distinction, all 1994, all for Christina Stead: A Biography.
Christina Stead: A Biography, Heinemann (Port Melbourne, Australia), 1993, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
The Art of Self-Invention, Heinemann (Port Melbourne, Australia), 1996.
(Editor, with Wenche Ommundsen) From a Distance: Australian Writers and Cultural Displacement, Deakin University Press (Geelong, Victoria, Australia), 1996.
Richard Wright: The Life and Times, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
(Translator, with Kevin Michel Capé) Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Last Friend (novel), New Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Best Australian Essays. Contributor to periodicals, including Partisan Review, Antioch Review, Mississippi Quarterly, Prose Studies, Contemporary Literature, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Southerly and Westerly, Times Higher Education Supplement, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Nation. Rowley's books have been translated into more than twelve languages.
SIDELIGHTS: Hazel Rowley was born in England, but she has spent much of her adult life in Australia and other foreign countries. She has written two well-received biographies of authors from her adopted countries (one of Australian writer Christina Stead and one of American author Richard Wright) as well as other nonfiction works.
Rowley's award-winning first book, Christina Stead: A Biography, is a comprehensive study of the life and work of Stead, the novelist best remembered for her book The Man Who Loved Children, which was first published in 1940. Before her death, Stead destroyed virtually all of her personal papers and diaries, making a biography such as Rowley's all the more valuable to those who desire a deeper insight into Stead's life and art. Several critics have praised Christina Stead, among them New York Newsday reviewer Diane Cole, who revealed that she had once considered writing Stead's biography. "Fortunately, I did not," Cole remarked. "Because in Christina Stead, … Hazel Rowley has written the book that I longed to read when I first discovered Stead—a perceptive and comprehensive examination of an extraordinary writer's life and her uncompromising artistic vision…. Rowley's account of Stead's life provides as intensely detailed, absorbing, and complex a portrait as any of her subject's fictional characters. Her reconstruction of Stead's early years allows us rare insight into the way the artistic imagination can spin parallel worlds in fiction out of the most hurtful realities." Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Merle Rubin offered similar comments about Christina Stead, finding that "Rowley's is not the first biography of Christina Stead, but it is the most complete and detailed account of her life to date…. Rowley has undertaken her task with zeal and understanding. Her sprawling biography presents a great deal of material culled from letters, articles, and personal interviews in a lively, cogent fashion. She examines multiple aspects of Stead's life and work without losing the thread of the story. Whether evaluating Stead's Communist sympathies or trying to assess the extent of her various infatuations, Rowley shows sound judgment and honesty."
Further praise came from Michael Upchurch, who reviewed Christina Stead for the New York Times Book Review. "The challenge for any would-be biographer," Upchurch observed, "is to establish the books' importance and relation to one another; to give a sense of the historical backgrounds and personalities from which Stead drew her inspiration; and to portray the woman herself, a task complicated by the fact that Stead burned many of her personal papers late in her life. Hazel Rowley … meets the challenge splendidly on all three counts. Juggling a vast amount of detail, her biography of Christina Stead is a model of clarity. Ms. Rowley's shrewd selectivity and handling of anecdote make the book compellingly readable…. Christina Stead is everything a literary biography should be." Rowley's profile of Stead was also applauded by critic Lorna Sage. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Sage observed that Stead's "rediscovery and canonization, which began in the mid-1960s, have been in many quarters more a matter of lip-service than conviction. She remains too hard to 'place,' even for a world that professes to admire slipperiness and fragmented selves. So it's a godsend to have a full account of her long wandering life…. Hazel Rowley, in this splendidly detailed account, much the fullest life to date, supplies the narrative that makes sense of the novels' angry, many-voiced, impatient, digressive brilliance."
For her biography of author Richard Wright, Rowley sifted through 136 boxes of his papers, which are archived at Yale University, as well as his correspondence with friends. Although the outlines of Wright's life story, from his birth to poor sharecroppers in Mississippi to his eventual self-imposed exile in France, were already well known, Rowley did manage to flesh out some aspects of Wright's past. His relationship with fellow African American writer Ralph Ellison and his early days as a writer living in Chicago, for example, were areas noted by reviewers where Rowley had made important contributions. "This ranks as one of the more revealing biographies" of Wright, wrote Black Issues Book Review contributor Robert Fleming. In a review for Booklist, Donna Seaman also praised Rowley, calling her "a precise, straight-ahead biographer who eschews facile analysis." Seaman concluded: "For the first time, Wright's complicated life and work and fully and justly illuminated."
In Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre Rowley tells the intricate story of the many relationships forged by existentialist icons and intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. For almost fifty years, from 1929 until Sartre's death in 1980, de Beauvoir and Sartre were involved in a complex intellectual and romantic relationship that found the two inseparably committed to each other, but far from monogamous. "Without undue prurience, Rowley … romps through the major entanglements, loves, triangles, friendships and affairs" of Sartre and de Beauvoir, remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Drawing from a trove of unpublished letters and interviews, Rowley brings fresh psychological insight to both her subjects," noted Megan O'Grady in Vogue. Rowley covers aspects of each personality, within and outside their mutual relationship. The physically unattractive Sartre, for example, delighted in seduction and conquest, particularly of beautiful women with whom he could foster a feeling of neediness and dependence on him. De Beauvoir had relationships with many men, though her attentions and affections kept returning to Sartre. Both claimed to be completely open with each other about other lovers they had, though de Beauvoir may have successfully hidden her bisexual affairs from Sartre, and Sartre himself admits that he was never completely truthful with de Beauvoir. "Sartre financially supports the lovers he betrays, while Beauvoir is stunningly two-faced," observed Donna Seaman in Booklist.
Marni Jackson, reviewing Tête-à-Tête in the Globe & Mail, commented: "While Rowley's book is fair, straightforwardly written, and deserves a spot on the creaking shelf of Sartre-de Beauvoir literature, the focus on the romantic shenanigans wears thin. It sometimes goes beyond juicy to creepy." However, Jackson also noted that Rowley "presents a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Sartre—generous, playful and charming—a hambone who loved playing hooky with women from the realm of ideas." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Rowley's biography a "neatly assembled record of people behaving badly in the name of literature, philosophy, and amour." Rowley's "lively and fulfilling portrait" is "thoroughly researched and well written," concluded Jason Moore in Library Journal.
Rowley once told CA: "I am interested in the cultural, historical, emotional and intellectual forces that form the individual writer. And I am absorbed by the subject of self-presentation in writing. How do particular writers present themselves, 'invent' themselves?
"I speak French and German and have lived several years in Europe and the United States, which has left me with a strong interest in cultural difference, its manifestations and implications."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scholar, autumn, 2001, John Freeman, review of Richard Wright: The Life and Times, p. 145.
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, August, 1997, Alan Meyer, review of From a Distance: Australian Writers and Cultural Displacement, p. 246.
Biography, winter, 2006, Marni Jackson and Christina Nehring, review of Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, p. 198.
Black Issues Book Review, January-February, 2002, Robert Fleming, review of Richard Wright, p. 65.
Book, July, 2001, Paul Evans, "American Exile," p. 22.
Booklist, September 1, 1994, Brad Hooper, review of Christina Stead: A Biography, p. 19; July, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Richard Wright, p. 1969; February 15, 2002, Brad Hooper, review of Richard Wright, p. 1002; October 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 17; February 1, 2006, Ray Olson, review of The Last Friend, p. 26.
Business Week, September 24, 2001, "Furious Writer," p. 20E6.
Entertainment Weekly, September 7, 2001, "The Week," p. 158; October 14, 2005, Michelle Kung, review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 161.
Essence, September, 2001, "Bookmark," p. 84.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 12, 2005, Marni Jackson, "The Goblin, the Beaver—and Their Lovers," review of Tête-à-Tête, p. D11.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 835.
Law Institute Journal, August, 1993, Simon Caterson, review of Christina Stead, p. 757.
Library Journal, August, 1994, Denise Johnson, review of Christina Stead, p. 87; July, 2001, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of Richard Wright, p. 68; September 15, 2005, Jason Moore, review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 68; May 15, 2006, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of The Last Friend, p. 89.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 20, 1994, Merle Rubin, review of Christina Stead, p. 2.
Nation, November 21, 1994, Louise Yelin, review of Christina Stead, p. 620.
New Statesman, February 10, 1995, Guy Mannes-Abbott, review of Christina Stead, p. 47.
New Yorker, February 6, 1995, Claudia Roth Piermont, review of Christina Stead, p. 85.
New York Newsday, October 2, 1994, Diane Cole, review of Christina Stead.
New York Review of Books, November 1, 2001, Darryl Pinckney, review of Richard Wright, p. 68.
New York Times, August 26, 2001, Michael Anderson, "A Native Son in Exile."
New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, Michael Upchurch, review of Christina Stead, p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, review of Christina Stead, p. 66; June 18, 2001, review of Richard Wright, p. 68; August 1, 2005, review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 58; December 19, 2005, review of The Last Friend, p. 38.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Tête-à-Tête.
Times Literary Supplement, August 20, 1993, Lorna Sage, review of Christina Stead, p. 3.
Vogue, October, 2005, Megan O'Grady, "Amours Fous: Frenchwomen May Not Get Fat, but as Two New Books Attest, They're Not Immune to Mishaps of the Heart," review of Tête-à-Tête, p. 266.
Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2001, Michael J. Ybarra, "A Literary Sensation, a Precarious Existence," p. A20.
Washington Post Book World, August 12, 2001, Jake Lamar, "The Outsider," p. 1.
World Literature Today, summer, 1994, David Coad, review of Christina Stead, p. 633.
Women's Review of Books, February, 1995, Helen Yglesias, review of Christina Stead, p. 7.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 30, 2001), Robert Fleming, review of Richard Wright.
Hazel Rowley Home Page, http://www.hazelrowley.com (September 1, 2006).
Independent Online, http://www.independent.co.uk/ (January 20, 2006), Joan Smith, "Lying in Theory and Practice," review of Tête-à-Tête.