Elkin, Stanley

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ELKIN, STANLEY (1930–1995), U.S. novelist and short story writer. From 1955 to 1957, he served in the U.S. Army. From 1960, he taught and wrote at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was appointed professor of English in 1968.

Elkin has been described as a black humorist. His fiction, which dramatizes the conflicts and vulgarity of contemporary popular culture in the U.S.A., has become increasingly popular since the 1960s. His first novel Boswell: a Modern Comedy (1964) chronicles the post-World War ii era as seen through the eyes of a cynical outside observer. His 1976 novel The Franchiser describes the life of Ben Flesh, who collects franchises, lives out of his Cadillac, eats fast food, and sleeps in motels. Only serious illness forces Ben to confront the sterility of his life.

Elkin's fiction is peopled by fantastically comic characters. In his third novel, The Dick Gibson Show (1971), Elkin utilizes a radio talk show format to recreate a set of eccentric comic personalities. His novella The Living End (1979) traces the lives of hold-up victims in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the cast of characters including Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and others both living and dead.

Elkin often uses the Jew and his exile as analogy for man's striving for freedom. In his first collection of short stories, Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers (1966), Elkin evokes the atmosphere of growing up Jewish in the late 1930s.

Elkin's other works have included the novel A Bad Man (1967) and the volume of short stories Searches and Seizure (1973), George Mills (1982), for which he won the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award, and Magic Kingdom (1985).


D. Dougherty, Stanley Elkin (1990); T. Pughe, Comic Sense (1994).

[Susan Strul]