John Cheever Biography

(Novelist & Short Story Writer)

Birthday: May 27, 1912 (Gemini)

Born In: Quincy

John William Cheever was a famous novelist and short story writer who is widely recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century. His writings were mostly set around locations near Manhattan, Massachusetts and Italy. His fictional plots often revolved around the duality of human nature, manifested as inner struggles within a single character or conflicts between two characters who personify different aspects of the human personality. Along with human nature he also explored the theme of nostalgia for a past way of life that is no longer there. Some of his most popular short stories are ‘The Enormous Radio’, ‘Goodbye My Brother’, ‘The Country Husband’, and ‘The Swimmer’. Though he is best remembered for his short fiction writing but he also authored the popular novel ‘The Wapshot Chronicle’ which won the National Book Award. He was born into a rich and prosperous family and enjoyed a comfortable childhood before the Great Depression struck and his father lost his successful business. Things took a turn for the worse and his family life greatly suffered. Young John was expelled from school and he wrote his first published short story: ‘Expelled’. After years of struggle he became an established writer but became victim to alcoholism due to which his personal as well as professional life suffered.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: John William Cheever

Died At Age: 70


Spouse/Ex-: Mary Winternitz

father: Frederick Lincoln Cheever

mother: Mary Liley Cheever

siblings: Fred

children: Benjamin Cheever, Frederico, Susan

Bisexual Novelists

Died on: June 18, 1982

place of death: Ossining

U.S. State: Massachusetts

More Facts

education: Thayer Academy

awards: 1979 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
- Guggenheim Fellowship
1979 - National Book Critics Circle Award

1982 - National Medal for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2009 - National Book Critics Circle Award

1958 - National Book Award (Chronicle) 2009 - Francis Parkman Prize

  • 1

    What themes are commonly found in John Cheever's works?

    John Cheever's works often explore themes of suburban life, conformity, alienation, and the struggle for connection and meaning in modern society.

  • 2

    How did John Cheever's own life experiences influence his writing?

    John Cheever drew heavily from his own experiences growing up in a wealthy suburb and dealing with issues such as alcoholism and marital problems, which are reflected in his works.

  • 3

    What is the significance of John Cheever's use of symbolism in his stories?

    John Cheever's use of symbolism, such as water and swimming pools, often conveys deeper themes of escape, renewal, and the facade of suburban life in his works.

  • 4

    How did critics and readers initially respond to John Cheever's writing?

    Critics and readers initially praised John Cheever for his elegant prose, keen observations of human behavior, and ability to capture the complexities of suburban life in mid-20th century America.

  • 5

    What is the legacy of John Cheever's writing in American literature?

    John Cheever is regarded as a master of the short story form and is credited with capturing the essence of post-war American life with wit, insight, and poignant storytelling. His works continue to be studied and admired for their timeless themes and literary craftsmanship.

Childhood & Early Life
He was born as the second child of Frederick Lincoln Cheever and Mary Liley Cheever. His father was a successful shoe salesman and gave his children a comfortable upbringing. However, the business suffered during the Great Depression.
He went to the Thayer Academy in 1926 and transferred to Quincy High in 1928. He returned to Thayer but was expelled in 1930. Cheever wrote a story about his expulsion, titled, ‘Expelled’ which was published in ‘The New Republic’.
His family’s financial woes continued and his parents separated. This was a very difficult and mentally stressful time for him. Later on his parents reconciled and he renewed his relations with them.
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He led a nomadic life for sometime, traveling between Manhattan, Saratoga, Lake George and Quincy. He had few material possessions and was a wanderer though he continued to write.
His story ‘Buffalo’ was bought by the ‘The New Yorker’ for $45 in 1935. This was the first of the many stories of his that would be published in the newspaper. Maxim Lieber served as his literary agent from 1935 to 1941.
He began working for the Federal Writers’ Project in Washington D.C. in 1938. He did not like the work there and quit after a year.
During World War II, he enlisted to serve in the army in 1942. During this time he also continued his writings. His first collection of short stories, ‘The Way Some People Live’ was published in 1943. The book received mixed reviews.
He was married and had a family by the time the war ended. After the war he took his family with him to Manhattan. Random House publishing gave him a $ 4, 800 advance to resume work on his novel, ‘The Holly Tree’ in 1946. He had begun working on the novel before the war.
His short story ‘The Enormous Radio’ was published in an issue of ‘The New Yorker’ in May 1947. The tale about a sinister radio that broadcast private conversations between people became very popular.
He began working on a long story called ‘The Day the Pig Fell into the Well’ which was completed in 1949 but was not published until five years later.
His story ‘Goodbye, My Brother’ was completed in 1951. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship the same year. He published a collection of short stories, ‘The Enormous Radio’ in 1953 which received positive reviews.
He finished work on the novel ‘The Wapshot Chronicle’ in 1956. Some years later he wrote ‘The Wapshot Scandal’ in 1964 which received great reviews.
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In 1964 his short story ‘The Swimmer’ appeared in the July issue of ‘The New Yorker’. The novel was adapted into a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1966 in which the author made a cameo appearance.
Even though he was gaining popularity, the stress of fame was taking its toll on him. He became a heavy drinker and his marriage suffered because of his personality disorders. He was also tormented by the society for being a bisexual.
His career suffered for a few years though he made his comeback with the novel ‘Falconer’ in 1977. It became a No.1 New York Times Best Seller. His next work, ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ was out in 1978 and went on to become one of his most successful works ever.
Major Works
His short story collection, ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ was his best known work. It had some of his most popular stories including ‘The Enormous Radio’, ‘Goodbye, My Brother’, ‘The Country Husband’ and ‘The Swimmer’. It won several prestigious awards.
Awards & Achievements
His short story collection, ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National book Critics Circle Award.
In 1982 he was awarded the National Medal for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Mary Winternitz in 1941. The couple had two children, a son and a daughter.
He was an alcoholic and that badly affected his health, personal life and professional career. Later, he joined Smithers Alcoholic Rehabilitation Unit in New York and never drank again.
He was diagnosed with cancer in 1981 and died in 1982 after the disease ravaged his entire body.
Facts About John Cheever

John Cheever was known for his unique writing habits, often composing his stories while standing in his underwear.

He had a fascination with swimming pools, which he frequently featured in his works as symbols of suburban life and disillusionment.

Cheever was a dedicated journal keeper, documenting his thoughts and experiences in detail, providing insight into his creative process.

Despite his reputation as a serious writer, Cheever had a playful side and enjoyed incorporating humor into his stories.

He was a lover of nature and often found inspiration for his writing in the landscapes of New England, where he spent much of his life.

See the events in life of John Cheever in Chronological Order

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