Shreve, Porter 1966-
Shreve, Porter 1966-
PERSONAL: Born 1966, in Washington, DC; son of Porter Jr. (a psychotherapist) and Susan (an editor and writer; maiden name, Richards) Shreve; married Bich Minh Nguyen (an educator and writer), June 1, 2002. Education: Attended University of Missouri Journalism School; American University, B.A.; University of Michigan, M.F.A.
ADDRESSES: Office—Purdue University, M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing, West Lafayette, IN 47097. Agent—Russell & Volkening Literary Agency, 50 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10001. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. In early career, held various jobs as a landscaper, housepainter, butcher's apprentice, Senate page, clean water canvasser, desk clerk, and courier, and worked the night desk at the Washington Post. Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, associate professor and director of M.F.A. program in creative writing. Has taught at University of Michigan, University of Oregon, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
AWARDS, HONORS: Finalist, Midland Authors Book Award and Great Lakes Book Award, and New York Times Notable book of the year designation, 2000, all for The Obituary Writer; Meijer fellowship in creative writing, University of Michigan; Hopwood Awards, University of Michigan, for novel and short-story writing.
(Editor, with mother, Susan Richards Shreve) Outside the Law: Narratives on Justice in America, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1997.
(Editor, with Susan Richards Shreve) How We Want to Live: Narratives on Progress, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1998.
The Obituary Writer (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
(Editor, with Susan Richards Shreve) Tales out of School: Contemporary Writers on their Student Years, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.
(Compiler, with wife, B. Minh Nguyen) The Contemporary American Short Story, Pearson Longman (New York, NY), 2004.
Drives like a Dream (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
(Compiler, with B. Minh Nguyen) Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye, Pearson Longman (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of book reviews, nonfiction, and short stories to periodicals, including Witness, Northwest Review, Salon.com, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A new novel; a collection of short stories titled A Brief History of the Fool.
SIDELIGHTS: Porter Shreve is a creative writing professor, novelist, and editor of several anthologies of essays by writers commenting on aspects of society usually left to the reflection of academicians. Several of his books have been edited with his mother, novelist Susan Richards Shreve, including Outside the Law: Narratives on Justice in America, in which a number of prominent writers reflect on the idea of justice in America. The essayists write primarily about cases involving criminal, racial, and economic justice, most of which have received some notoriety or prominence in the media. For example, one writer discusses the jury in the O. J. Simpson trial; another looks at the lives of two Chicago boys who, at the age of ten and twelve, were sentenced to prison for dropping a preschooler out a fourteenth-story window to his death. Writing in Library Journal, Phillip Young Blue said,"The thread linking these stories is that true justice is highly subjective and that our legal system attempts to approach it through objectivity and litigiousness." Booklist contributor Kathleen Hughes stated, "This carefully edited examination of justice is both a satisfying and an eye-opening read."
The Shreves' second collection, How We Want to Live: Narratives on Progress, includes seventeen essays in which various writers discuss the various avenues of progress and the meaning progress has for them. The topics are wide-ranging, including discussions of the ecological crises that progress has brought about, the cycle of life and death, and the American insistence on forward motion as the only type of progress that is worthwhile. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that some of the essayist defined "progress so vaguely that the essays lose coherence." However, Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, attested, "The Shreves are on to something with their essay series on complex and provocative subjects." The reviewer went on to call the book "every bit as probing" as Outside the Law.
Shreve has also written fiction, starting with his first novel, The Obituary Writer, which has received wide critical recognition. The story revolves around Gordie Hatch, who is beginning his journalism career as an obituary writer for the St. Louis Independent. Looking for a good story to establish his career and put him on par with his successful journalist father, Gordie stumbles upon a possible break when he gets a call from Alicia Whiting, a widow who, as it turns out, may have killed her husband. Gordie and the widow become romantically involved, but their relationship is full of deceit as Gordie tries to make himself appear to be a more accomplished journalist than he really is. The gullible Gordie, however, is on a road to self-discovery and encounters important lessons about ambition and the balancing act between truth and lies.
In reviewing The Obituary Writer, a Publishers Weekly contributor related that "the story raises compelling questions about honesty and friendship," but the critic added that Gordie's "epiphanies lack power." The reviewer nevertheless praised the "unexpected twists, the deft buildup of suspense and a clever premise." New York Times Book Review contributor Louis Bayard felt that "Shreve is not a colorful stylist—though he is nicely economical," but added that "he has written an involving and sneakily touching story whose twists feel less like the conventions of a genre than the convolutions of a heart."
Shreve's second novel, Drives like a Dream, focuses on the personal crisis of Lydia Modine. Divorced after more than thirty years of marriage, the sixty-one-year-old Lydia finds herself alone. Her three children are grown and gone, and her ex-husband is remarrying a younger woman. Shreve tells the story through the eyes of Lydia and Lydia's daughter, Jessica, giving the reader alternative perspectives on what is happening in Lydia's life. Meanwhile, Lydia, who is writing a book about the troubled automotive industry in Detroit, sees a correlation between her own hard times and the planned obsolescence inherent in the automotive industry. Furthermore, her research for the book includes writing about her father, who once worked as a designer for maverick car maker Preston Tucker. Through her research, Lydia makes the disturbing discovery that her own father may have helped sabotage Tucker's work at the behest of the Big Three automakers. The lonely Lydia eventually begins an e-mail correspondence with Norm Crawford, an environmental activist around whom she builds a fantasy relationship that disturbs her children.
Drives like a Dream received quite a bit of critical praise. Jerry Eberle, writing in Booklist, called Shreve's effort "an affecting character-driven novel." "Peppered with an assortment of memorable characters," concluded Maureen Neville in Library Journal, "this entertaining novel effectively combines a tale of loss and letting go with an examination of a large industry's past." In addition, a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "clever and biting fiction that also serves as an amiable account of the Detroit car industry." And, writing in the Washington Post Book World, Carolyn See concluded, "Drives like a Dream is a beautiful novel, carefully put together, full of charming secondary characters, charitable to all…. The tone here is comic, even genial, but the theme is sad. Everything we have, we lose. Life, despite America's feverish materialism, is ephemera. Everyone we knew or know, up to and including ourselves, will all too soon be obsolete, whether we plan for it or not."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1997, Kathleen Hughes, review of Outside the Law: Narratives on Justice in America, p. 1782; July, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of How We Want to Live: Narratives on Progress, p. 1838; September 15, 2004, Jerry Eberle, review of Drives like a Dream, p. 210.
Entertainment Weekly, June 30, 2000, Clarissa Cruz, review of The Obituary Writer, p. 124.
Houston Chronicle, September 3, 2000, Renee Kientz, review of The Obituary Writer, p. 19.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Drives like a Dream, p. 1162.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Phillip Young Blue, review of Outside the Law, p. 105; July, 1998, Mary Paumier Jones, review of How We Want to Live, p. 90; January 1, 2005, Maureen Neville, review of Drives Like a Dream, p. 100.
New York Times Book Review, June 11, 2000, Louis Bayard, review of The Obituary Writer, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 1997, review of Outside the Law, p. 57; July 6, 1998, review of How We Want to Live, p. 44; May 15, 2000, review of The Obituary Writer, p. 90; February 14, 2005, review of Drives like a Dream, p. 52.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 2000, Dale Singer, review of The Obituary Writer, p. F10.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 20, 2005, Sandra Scofield, review of Drives like a Dream, p. 4.
Washington Post Book World, March 4, 2005, Carolyn See, review of Drives Like a Dream, p. C3.
Yale Review of Books, winter, 1998, Simon Rasin, review of How We Want to Live.
Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (March 8, 2005).
Porter Shreve Home Page, http://www.portershreve.com (March 8, 2005).
Readerville.com, http://www.readerville.com/ (March 8, 2005), "Porter Shreve."