Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Ellen Gilchrist


Ellen Gilchrist Ellen Gilchrist 1935-

Major Works

  • Short Story Collections
    • In the Land of Dreamy Dreams
    • Victory Over Japan
    • Drunk With Love: A Book of Stories
    • Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle
    • I Cannot Get You Close Enough: Three Novellas
    • Rhoda: A Life in Stories
    • The Courts of Love
    • The Age of Miracles
    • Flights of Angels
    • The Cabal and Other Stories ( 2000)
    • I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy, And Other Stories (2002)
    • Nora Jane: A Life in Stories 2005
  • Novels
    • The Annunciation
    • The Anna Papers
    • Net of Jewels
    • Starcarbon
    • Anabasis: A Journey to the Interior
    • Sarah Conley
    • A Dangerous Age 2008
  • Poems
    • The Land Surveyor's Daughter: PoemsA Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist
    • Riding out the Tropical Depression: Selected Poems, 1975-1985
  • Non-Fiction
    • Falling Through Space: The Journals of Ellen Gilchrist
    • The Writing Life

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Biography of Ellen Gilchrist

According to Wendell Brock, in her acclaimed novels and short story collections, the Mississippi writer Ellen Gilchrist "taps the human heart with unmistakable empathy -- and unerring humor." She was born on February 20, 1935, near In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen GilchristVicksburg, Mississippi,  in Issaquena County.  At the age of fourteen, she wrote a column called "Chit and Chat About This and That" for a local Franklin, Kentucky, paper.   She attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she received a Bachelor's degree in philosophy. At nineteen, Gilchrist married Marshall Walker, an engineering student, and they had three children.   When she divorced Walker, she enrolled in a creative writing course at Millsaps College in Jackson, where she was taught by Eudora Welty. She also studied creative writing at the University of Arkansas.

Ellen Gilchrist's first collection of short stories, In the Land of  Dreamy Dreams, was published by the University of  Arkansas Press in 1981 and reissued in hardcover and  paperback by Little, Brown and Company in 1985. Victory over Japan by Ellen GilchristHer  first novel,  The Annunciation, was published in 1983, and her second  collection of short stories, Victory Over Japan, for which she received the National Book Award for Fiction, was published in 1984. She now has more than seventeen books of her work published.  Ellen Gilchrist has received numerous awards, including the  Mississippi Arts Festival Poetry Award; the New York Quarterly Craft in Poetry Award; the National Endowment of the Arts Grant in Fiction; and the Mississippi Academy of Arts and Science Award for Fiction. In addition, she has received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award three times, for In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Victory Over  Japan, and I Cannot Get You Close Enough.

Although Gilchrist presently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she maintains a house in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, as well.

2008 UPDATE: Ellen Gilchrist continues to teach in the Creative Writing and Translation program of the Department of English at the University of ArkansasNora Jane by Ellen Gilchrist. Her book The Writing Life was published by The University Press of Mississippi in 2005 and Nora Jane: A Life in Stories was published by Little Brown also in 2005. Her newest novel, A Dangerous Age, has just been published. It is the story of three women of the Hand family who are cousins in a "Southern dynasty rich with history and tradition who are no strangers to either controversy or sadness," according to the publisher Algonquin of Chapel HIll.

Biography of Ellen Gilchrist
By Lynn Rowan

Ellen Gilchrist  is the highly acclaimed author of numerous novels and short story collections, which include the National Book Award-winning Victory Over Japan.  Her success has been achieved through many years of studying creative writing at many well known universities and a brief study with the renowned author Eudora Welty.

Ellen Gilchrist was born on February 20, 1935 in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  She achieved a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Vanderbilt University.  Along with her philosophy degree, she studied creative writing at Millsaps University, and also at the University of Arkansas.

Rhoda: A Life in Stories by Ellen GilchristGilchrist is known for the use of empathy and humor in her novels.  During her life as an author, Gilchrist has won many awards and honors.  Victory Over Japan is one of her most famous books .  In 1984, she was awarded the National Book Award for this novel.  She is also an author of other best selling novels like Net Of Jewels and Starcarbon.  Publisher’s Weekly states "Gilchrist’s marvelous storytelling gifts are abundantly lavished on Starcarbon." Falling Through Space contains her NPR commentaries from Morning Edition from 1984 through 1985.

Her  love for literature has been fulfilling for her readers for years.  Gilchrist has been rewarded for her literature and also for many years of hard work and dedication to literary writing.  In conclusion, Ellen Gilchrist’s works of literature touch the human heart with empathy and humor. 

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A Review of Revenge
by Cherie Clinton (SHS)

Ellen Gilchrist's "Revenge" is a short story about overcoming obstacles. "Revenge" is set in mid-summer during World War I in Issaquena County, Mississippi. The tone chosen for this story changes from the light feel of childhood to the mature feelings of war. The story changes from third-person omniscient to first-person point of view very quickly. The narrator is the main character. The theme of the story is that no matter how big a challenge seems, it can always be accomplished. In this short story, Gilchrist develops character as well as plot. The characters in the story are dynamic as they change during the course of the story. The main character is Rhoda. Other important characters are Rhoda's four cousins: Philip, Bunkey, Saint John, Oliver, and her brother, Dudley. Rhoda's grandmother, Miss Onnie Maud, and Lauralee also play a part in the literary work. The characters who change are her cousins and brother. Before they realize Rhoda's abilities, they think that girls can't do any of the things that guys do. The grandmother, Miss Onnie Maud, and Lauralee realize that women do not have to follow the strict standards of Southern women after Rhoda overcomes her obstacle. Although the plot develops over a short time period, it is very elaborate. The story begins with Gilchrist reminiscing about the summer of Broad Jump Pit. Then Rhoda tells the story of her summer with her grandmother in the Delta. The main conflict occurs when Rhoda and Dudley's father writes to tell them to build an Olympic training field. The four cousins and Dudley guard the field from Rhoda day and night. A battle is started between Rhoda and the five boys. The highlight of the story is when Rhoda finally defeats the boys and gets to pole vault on the field.

The Writing Life by Ellen GilchristI liked the story because of the intense character development as well as the plot development. The story proves that people, just like books, cannot be judged by their covers. With determination and perseverance, obstacles can be overcome.

A Review of The Best Meal I Ever Had Anywhere
by Cherie Clinton (SHS)

In the narrative poem "The Best Meal I Ever Had Anywhere,"  Ellen Gilchrist uses little character development; however, she has a fast-paced plot. The poem is told in the first- person point of view. The tone is light and pleasant up until the last two verses, which are quite crude. The setting is a Sunday dinner with the speaker's family. All of the children sit on books except for Bunky, who has the high chair. In the end the speaker gets her revenge on Bunky. ThisFlights of Angels by Ellen Gilchrist poem is related to "Revenge" in that it has some of the same characters and the main character got her revenge after being denied her equal rights while growing up with boys. I really enjoyed this poem because it was similar to the short story "Revenge." Gilchrist uses some of the main characters from her other works, and the characters and incidents seem to be somewhat autobiographical.

A Review of Starcarbon
by Lynn Rowan (SHS)

The novel Starcarbon by Ellen Gilchrist is filled with compassion, heartaches, and finding love in all the wrong places and at the wrong times.  The main characters in the novel experience many obstacles as they learn to love and understand other people in their lives.  As the three main characters, Olivia, Georgia, and Jessie are faced with a lot of trying times and difficult obstacles to over come, they also help each other over come these hard obstacles.

While struggling to find herself in life, Olivia tries to learn how to love and trust the people around her.  In order to do this, she is sent to a psychiatrist, whom she tells  about how her life and how her mother left her father before she was born.  While giving birth to Olivia, her mother died and left Olivia to grow up with her Cherokee relatives,  not ever knowing  who her father was.

When Olivia was sixteen years old, her Aunt Anna came and took her to Charlotte, North Carolina, to live with the father she never knew.  Here sheStarcarbon by Ellen Gilchrist spent the rest of her teenage years growing up with a half sister, whom she was not close to, and to a father who she did not know well.   Jessie is faced with a very different problem.  She is faced with the problem of getting pregnant at the age of eighteen, dropping out of college, and living with a husband who is going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and trying to get cleaned up to provide a better life for his family.  Jessie is also faced with the same problem that Olivia faces,  that of an alcoholic father who is drinking his life away, although he does not realize that he is drinking to the point of being poor.

I Cannot Get You Close Enough by Ellen GilchristGeorgia, however, has other obstacles to face.  She is faced with her lover, Zach Biggs, who is not able to make sacrifices for the sake of their relationship.  Georgia meets Olivia as one of the students in her Anthropology class.  As Olivia and Georgia become closer as pupil and teacher, they also become closer as friends.  Together they form a special bond, helping each other overcome their difficult obstacles.  Georgia helps Olivia learn how to love her fiancé, Bobby Tree. And in turn, Olivia helps Georgia try to understand Zach’s side of the relationship. Olivia is also faced with the problem of worrying about what her father’s side of the family will think about Bobby. Olivia’s knowing that Bobby’s father is in jail makes her a little doubtful as to whether she should marry him or not.

This novel is written in the third person omniscient point of view.  The narrator/ author of the story is not a character in the novel, but she foresees all.  The plot is very up lifting, although the obstacles get tough , the characters are able to help each other overcome any obstacles they  face.  Gilchrist wrote this novel to capture the reader’s mind and heart.  She also wrote the novel to entertain the reader.  The settings that the story takes place in describe the backgrounds of the different characters. The title of this novel is very symbolic to Bobby.  In order to get Olivia away from some of the problems that she faces, he tells her "We can go to Montana, to Starcarbon, Tom and Sherrill’s ranch."  I believe that the reason Gilchrist makes Bobby say this is because, according to him, there is nothing that can bother you at Starcarbon Ranch.  Everything is just perfect.

The novel’s theme is about life’s hardships and difficulties and how you can find love anywhere.  I believe that Gilchrist is trying to say that you can findEllen Gilchrist love anywhere and anytime.  In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because of the way it relates the lives of  many different people with different backgrounds.  Ellen Gilchrist is not only a noted Mississippi author, she is also a well known American author. 

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Related Websites

Ole Miss Writers Page gives biographical information for Gilchrist.

Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture includes Gilchrist.

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Bibliography

Abbot, Dorothy. Mississippi Authors: An Anthology. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Hall, Sharon. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Volume 34. Detroit, Michigan 48226: Gale Research Book Tower, 1985.

McCrowski, Daniel G. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Volume 48. Detroit, Michigan 48226: Gale Research Book Tower, 1985.

Medical Humanities. Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database, 1996.

University of Arkansas English Department page of books by Gilchrist.

University of Arkansas English Department faculty list includes Gilchrist.

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Last updated in January 2008
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