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William T. Vollmann

Biography

Vollmann is one of those authors, like Joyce Carol Oates, whom it is almost impossible for one person to have read all their work and, if you don’t believe me, check out this website. Though expensive to obtain in its full version and out of print, Rising Up and Rising Down was published in a version of 3,300 pages (yes, three thousand three hundred) pages. Who has read it? Not me, for sure. This is not to say that Vollmann, like Oates, is not worthwhile. They are both incredibly worthwhile and, contrary to what Horace Engdahl may say, both excellent contenders for the Nobel Prize, more so than many of the actual winners. It is just that there is too much when, as I hope this site shows, there are a lot of other worthwhile books to read. But please, please don’t be put off by the quantity as you really should read both Vollmann and Oates if you want to have even the faintest idea of what US literature is about.

William T. Vollmann was born in Los Angeles in 1959. The defining moment in his early life was when he was supervising his six-year old sister when he was nine. He was distracted and she drowned, for which he blamed himself. He attended Deep Springs College and then took a B.A. in comparative literature from Cornell. After working at various odd jobs, he went to Afghanistan and described his experiences in An Afghanistan Picture Show Or How I Saved the World. After studying for a year at Berkeley, he worked as a computer programmer, while writing his first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels: A Cartoon. He has since produced a prodigious amount of work, including the 3,300 page long Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means (an abridged version is available). He has been working on a lengthy seven volume novel series on the colonisation of North America, called the Seven Dreams.

His work deals both with the effects of the development of North America by European immigrants as well as the seamy side of life. His work is incredibly ambitious and, while owing much to writers like Thomas Pynchon, very original. He will remain one of the foremost US novelists for some time to come.

Other links

William T. Vollmann
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William T. Vollmann
Reading Vollmann
Overrated Writers, Part Three: William Vollmann
William T. Vollmann Channels His Female Alter-Ego Dolores in His First Art Exhibit
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Bibliography

1987 The Convict Bird: A Children’s Poem
1987 You Bright and Risen Angels: A Cartoon
1989 The Rainbow Stories
1989 The Tale of the Dying Lungs
1990 The Ice-Shirt (Seven Dreams 1)
1991 Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs
1991 Whores for Gloria
1992 An Afghanistan Picture Show or How I Saved the World
1992 Fathers and Crows (Seven Dreams 2)
1993 Butterfly Stories
1993 The Rifles (Seven Dreams 6)
1996 The Atlas
2000 The Royal Family
2001 Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Seven Dreams 3)
2003 Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means
2004 Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader
2005 Europe Central
2006 Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
2007 Poor People
2008 Riding Toward Everywhere
2009 Imperial
2010 Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement, and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater
2011 Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan
2014 Last Stories
2015 The Dying Grass (Seven Dreams 5)