William Clark Styron, Jr. died on November 1, 2006 at the age of 81; he was an American novelist and essayist who won major literary awards for his work.
Born in the Hilton Village historic district of Newport News, Virginia on June 11, 1925, he grew up in the South and was steeped in its history.
His birthplace was less than a hundred miles from the site of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, later the source for Styron’s most famous and controversial novel.
Styron attended public school in Warwick County, first at Hilton School and then at Morrison High School (now known as Warwick High School) for two years, until his father sent him to Christchurch School, an Episcopal college-preparatory school in the Tidewater region of Virginia.
Styron once said, “But of all the schools I attended…only Christchurch ever commanded something more than mere respect—which is to say, my true and abiding affection.”
Styron transferred to Duke University in 1943 as a part of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps V-12 program aimed at fast-tracking officer candidates by enrolling them simultaneously in basic training and bachelor’s degree programs.
There he published his first fiction, a short story heavily influenced by William Faulkner, in an anthology of student work.
Styron published several short stories in the University literary magazine, The Archive, between 1944 and 1946.
Though Styron was made a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Japanese surrendered before his ship left San Francisco.
Back in the United States, William Styron resumed his education at Duke University.
During this time, he became reacquainted with his former professor, William Blackburn.
Blackburn took Styron under his wing, encouraging Styron’s interest in literature and coaching him in his writing.
With Blackburn’s support and guidance, Styron began writing his first short stories.
Styron at last completed his Bachelor of the Arts degree at Duke in 1947.
After graduation, he moved to New York, following Blackburn’s suggestion that he take Hira Haydn’s creative writing class at the New School for Social Research.
Since his father was providing him financial support, Styron decided to stop working and focus entirely on his writing.
The decision yielded successful results; after a summer redeployed, in 1952, Styron published his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, about the collapse of a Southern family.
The book earned Styron the Prix de Rome of the Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a free year at the American Academy in Rome.
The summer before his year in Rome, Styron stayed in Paris, where he helped found The Paris Review.
In 1956, Styron published a novella called The Long March, inspired by his second Marine tour.
He produced his next novel, Set This House on Fire, in 1960, which many readers found disappointing.
In 1967, Styron faced controversy when he published The Confessions of Nat Turner, based on the real-life experiences of a slave who rebelled.
Despite this upset, the book won a Pulitzer Prize the following year.