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Novelist Jayne Anne Phillips was born in Buckhannon on July 19, 1952. She attended West Virginia University, graduating magna cum laude in 1974. During the next two years, she traveled west, working and writing in California and Colorado. In 1976, she enrolled in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, receiving a master of fine arts degree in 1978.

Phillips has published six short story collections, Sweethearts (1976), Counting (1978), Black Tickets (1979), How Mickey Made It (1981), The Secret Country (1982), and Fast Lanes (1987). Her short stories have been widely anthologized, and her writing has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Granta, and other magazines. She has also published five novels, including Machine Dreams (1984), Shelter (1994), MotherKind (2001), and Lark and Termite (2009), which was nominated for the National Book Award. Her 2013 novel Quiet Dell is based on the 1931 murders of two women and three children by the serial killer Harry Powers in Quiet Dell, near Clarksburg.

Phillips has received a Guggenheim Fellowship; the O. Henry Award; the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction for Black Tickets; and an American Library Association Notable Book citation and the New York Times Best Book citation for Machine Dreams. For the most part, Phillips sets her fiction in 20th-century West Virginia, tracing family histories and individual struggles for escape and redemption. Her stories often focus on the redemptive power of love, on family love or its absence, and on the forces of change that are at work in Appalachia. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Phillips said, “For me, West Virginia is composed of magical, retentive, pressured elements: the weight of the mountainous, isolated, exploited landscape, and the depth and complexity of a culture that is largely misunderstood and stereotyped. (Having one’s) origins in a no-man’s-land, a deeply specific isolation drenched in family stories and secrets, is a huge advantage for a writer.”

Phillips has taught at Harvard University, Williams College, Boston University and Brandeis University. She is now professor of English and director of the Rutgers Newark MFA program. In 2017, she was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from West Virginia University’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

In 2023, she released her first novel in a decade. Night Watch is about a mother and daughter residing in the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum after the Civil War. For this work, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

This Article was written by Thomas Douglass

Last Revised on May 07, 2024

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Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.

'Black Tickets' State Writer's Debut. Panorama, Dominion Post, 11/3/1979.

Douglass, Thomas. Jayne Anne Phillips. Appalachian Journal, (Winter 1994).

Cite This Article

Douglass, Thomas "Jayne Anne Phillips." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 May 2024. Web. 12 July 2024.


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