Vernon, Alex 1967–

views updated

Vernon, Alex 1967–

PERSONAL:

Born May 26, 1967, in Dallas, TX; son of Walter N. III (an attorney and executive) and Barbara (a city administrator) Vernon; children: Anna Cay. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: U.S. Military Academy at West Point, B.S., 1989; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, M.A., 1994, Ph.D., 2001. Politics: Liberal. Religion: "Methodist by birth (paternal grandfather a Methodist minister)."

ADDRESSES:

Home— Little Rock, AR. Office— Department of English, Hendrix College, 1600 Washington Ave., Conway, AR 72032. E-mail— [email protected]

CAREER:

Hendrix College, assistant professor, 2001-07, associate professor of English, 2007—; project manager for two educational software developers, 1995-98. Military service: U.S. Army, Fort Stewart, GA, lieutenant, 1989-1992; U.S. Army Reserve, Durham, NC, captain, 1998-99; Army Commendation Medal for Valor.

MEMBER:

Hemingway Society, American Studies Association, Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, Mid-America American Studies Association, Modern Language Association, U.S. Military Academy Association of Graduates.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Distinguished Book Award, Army Historical Foundation, for The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War; Ernest Hemingway Research Grant, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, 2007; C.P. Snow Fellowship, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 2007.

WRITINGS:

(With Neal Creighton, Greg Downey, Rob Holmes, and Dave Trybula)The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War(memoir), Kent State University Press (Kent, OH,) 1999.

Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2004.

(Editor)Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Writing, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 2005.

most succinctly bred(memoir), Kent State University Press (Kent, OH,) 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Encyclopedia of Life-Writing, edited by Margaretta Jolly, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers (London, England), 2001;West Point'sPerspectives on Officership: Selected Readings, Alliance Press, 2001;Heath Anthology of American Literature,4th edition, 2001, 5th edition, 2005;Conflict and Complicity: Evolution and Eugenics in American Literature and Culture, 1880-1940, edited by Lois A. Cuddy and Claire Roche, Bucknell University Press, 2004. Contributor to numerous periodicals including the Hemingway Review, WLA: War, Literature, & the Arts, the New York Times,American Heritage, and Wilson Quarterly. a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, reader, 2000—;Hemingway Review, reader, 2002—;WLA: War, Literature, & the Arts, contributing editor, 2003—.

SIDELIGHTS:

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a former lieutenant in the U.S. Army and captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, Alex Vernon has forged a career writing about soldiers and wars, including a memoir that documents his own experiences. He wrote his first book,The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War, with the assistance of Neal Creighton, Greg Downey, Rob Holmes, and Dave Trybula.

In a grant application that Vernon provided to CA, he said that the challenge in writing The Eyes of Orion was "managing five voices while sustaining a compelling narrative." He noted, "It taught me how to make books work." Winner of the Army Historical Foundation's Distinguished Book Award,The Eyes of Orion provides the personal accounts of five young platoon leaders—fresh out of college—as they prepared for, took part in, and returned from the Persian Gulf War. Writing for the Strategy Page Web site, A.A. Nofi called the work "an unusual, but effective collective memoir."

Vernon's next book,Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien, examines how serving in the military and experiencing war influenced the writing styles of the three authors in the title. The book begins by exploring the history and issues associated with American war literature. It then delves deeper into the lives and works of Hemingway, a modernist who served as an ambulance driver and war correspondent in World War I; Salter, a mid-century writer who served as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War; and O'Brien, a post-modernist who served as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. Combined, the works of these three authors span nearly a century of war and war literature. According to Vernon, "The book observes that war literature by veterans is postwar literature, that any work by a veteran is veteran's literature whatever its subject. It seeks traces of the war experience in all the authors' works, paying special attention to the issues of narration, identity, and gender."

In 2005, Vernon edited a collection of original essays titled Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Writing. Writing for Biography, Frances B. Cogan explained that the collection "presents critical essays commenting on a literary potpourri of published memoirs, diaries, letters, and ‘as told to’ autobiographies, all of which analyze war and its aftermath on the first-person narrator." The work includes what Vernon calls "an eclectic sampling of interpretive approaches and historical periods, from Xenophon to the first Gulf War." Cogan remarked that Vernon's introduction to the book "lends a vital unity of vision to the work as a whole," and concluded, "This is an important collection of what military life-writing can mean, and its splendid introduction presents us with uncomfortable new questions we need to answer—soon."

In describing his next work,most succinctly bred(the title of which comes from a poem by e. e. cummings), Vernon remarked, "This essayistic memoir traces my relationship with war and the military. Born during the American war in Vietnam, I grew up in middle America and went to West Point in the last decades of the Cold War, returned from the first Gulf War, and watched as a veteran and academic the second Iraq war come to pass." Vernon continued, "Though at times quite personal, the book becomes less an autobiographical confession than a history of this remarkable transitional era, with my own subjectivity as the historical subject…. most succinctly bred is a war memoir with hardly any war stories in it." A contributor to the Arkansas Times called most succinctly bred "an offbeat little book" that contains "some incisive and cliché-free thinking about the Iraq War." The contributor went on, noting that "some of his passages … are worth rereading if not memorizing."

In the grant application that he provided to CA, Vernon said: "Why do [I] write (what [I] write)? Because in elementary school, I made my own poorly illustrated story books (in which I usually killed off a friend who had recently made me mad), and I sat at our dining room table with my mother's high-tech electric typewriter to type other stories and reports for school. Because as a kid and a teen I often spent hours in a bookstore. Because I love the feel and smell of books—I have always had the habit of buying books I never read. My grandfather, a minister, wrote several histories of Methodism in the southern United States. That was a particular point of family pride, and for me a thing of mystery. Of the remembered images from my grandparents' home, his writing desk stands out.

"A friend recently inscribed her Ernest Hemingway biography, ‘For Alex, who also loves the book-making process, as did EH.’ I write for the love of it, which is to say the necessity.

"I did not realize that nonfiction was not just the stuff of textbooks and school papers until college at West Point. Early during cadet basic training that first summer, we heard Douglas MacArthur's farewell address to the corps, that scratchy ghostly voice that exists only because some initiative-seizing cadets snuck a tape recorder into the mess hall podium before dinner. Toward the end, when he refers to crossing the river for the last time, I understood that he meant both the literal Hudson River, a few hundred feet from where we sat in Eisenhower Hall, and the figurative river we each must cross alone. The simple beauty, the utility really, of that moment, that movement, astonished me. A few years later a professor, Pat Hoy, introduced me to Virginia Woolf's essays, and went on to publish his own collection. Thus at West Point, of all places, I first glimpsed the artful possibilities of nonfiction.

"I was on my way. It took nearly a decade to teach myself how to write, to come into my craft.

"The only comment I can make about process is that I seem to be always working on several projects at once, in their various stages. So I might be heavily engaged in drafting or revising one, finishing the final publication stage of another, waiting on colleagues or a publisher for yet another, while also imagining and taking notes for what I might do next."

Vernon later told CA: "My writing career has allowed me to pursue successfully both academic publishing and general nonfiction. From my perspective, my chief accomplishments are the public relevance of the work and the varied nature of the books (despite their common subject): a five-author collaborative memoir, a work of literary criticism, and an essayistic memoir. My favorite of my books is most succinctly bred. This is the book that satisfied my lifelong curiosity about whether I had any talent; this is the one that I can't imagine ever topping, and don't care if I don't; this is the one that I'm content to go to the grave having left behind."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Vernon, Alex,most succinctly bred(memoir), Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 2006.

PERIODICALS

American Literature, December, 2005, John Whalen-Bridge, review of Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien, p. 854.

Arkansas Times, April 6, 2006, "An April Shower of New Books," review of most succinctly bred.

Biography, summer, 2006, Frances B. Cogan, review of Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Writings, p. 486.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December, 2004, G. Grieve-Carlson, review of Soldiers Once and Still, p. 664; November, 2005, D.A. Henningfeld, review of Arms and the Self, p. 481.

Journal of Military History, October, 2000, Russell Glenn, review of The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War, p. 1223.

Marine Corps Gazette, April, 2000, review of The Eyes of Orion, p. 76.

Military Law Review, June, 2003, Carl A. Johnson, review of The Eyes of Orion, pp. 467-474.

ONLINE

Kent State University Press Web site,http://upress.kent.edu/ (November 8, 2007), descriptions of most succinctly bred, Arms and the Self, and The Eyes of Orion.

Strategy Page,http://strategypage.com/ (November 8, 2007), A.A. Nofi, review of The Eyes of Orion.