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Reynolds Price

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Reynolds Price

Reynolds Price
Born Edward Reynolds Price
(1933-02-01)February 1, 1933
Macon, North Carolina
Died January 20, 2011(2011-01-20) (aged 77)
Durham, North Carolina
Nationality American
Alma mater Duke University
Occupation Author and Professor

Reynolds Price (February 1, 1933 – January 20, 2011), born Edward Reynolds Price, was an American poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist and James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University. Apart from English literature, Price had a lifelong interest in Biblical scholarship. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Reception 4
  • List of Publications 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Price was born Edward Reynolds Price in Macon, North Carolina on February 1, 1933, the first of two sons of Will and Elizabeth Price. Both he and his mother narrowly survived an extremely taxing childbirth; family legend states that during these circumstances, Will Price prayed and made a promise to God that if his wife and son survived, he would quit drinking alcohol.[2] Price’s family, struggling under the economic climate of the Great Depression, resided in the rural North Carolina towns of Macon, Henderson, Warrenton, Roxboro, and Asheboro throughout his childhood. Rather than joining other boys his age in sports and outdoor activities, Price developed a childhood fondness for the arts – reading, writing, painting, and opera included.[2] He attended Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina and eventually received a full scholarship to Duke University, where he continued writing, served as the editor of Duke’s literary magazine, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude. After graduating in 1955, Price received a Rhodes Scholarship and attended Merton College, Oxford University. While at Oxford, Price formed important friendships with the poet W. H. Auden, as well as the biographer Lord David Cecil.[1] He devoted a significant portion of his literary studies, as well as his thesis, to English poet John Milton.[2] Upon graduation with a B.Litt. in 1958, Price secured a position in the Duke University English department, where he stayed for the rest of his career, often teaching courses on Milton, creative writing, and the Gospels.[1]

In the spring of 1984, a life-altering medical event occurred when Price reported difficulty walking and underwent testing at Duke University Hospital. James Schiff describes, “He soon learned of a ‘pencil-thick and gray-colored’ tumor, ten inches long and cancerous, which was ‘intricately braided in the core of [his] spinal cord’.”[2] Although surgery and radiation managed to remove the tumor from his spine, Price became a paraplegic and required a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After enduring these initial years, Price emerged from this trying period “a more patient and watchful person and a dramatically more prolific writer.”[2] He still bore, however, “colossal, incessant pain,” as he described.[3] He wrote about his experience as a cancer survivor in his memoir A Whole New Life. Regarding his life after this tragedy, Price explains, "I'd have to say that, despite an enjoyable fifty-year start, these recent years since full catastrophe have gone still better. They've brought more in and sent more out – more love and care, more knowledge and patience, more work in less time."[4]

In 1987, Duke University gave Price its highest honor when it awarded him the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service.[1]

Price died at the age of 77 on January 20, 2011, as a result of complications from a heart attack.[5]


Over his career, Price produced 38 total novels, short stories, and memoirs.[6] Price is classified as a Southern writer, as his works are often especially associated with his lifelong home of North Carolina. Price's first ever published story, called "A Chain of Love", came in 1958. He wrote his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, and witnessed its publication in 1962. The work received the William Faulkner Foundation Award (1963) and has sold over a million copies.[2] His 1986 novel Kate Vaiden also gained immense popularity and received the National Books Critics Circle Award.[2] Price composed a memoir entitled Clear Pictures in 1989 which directly led to the production of a Charles Guggenheim documentary about the author’s lifetime.[2] He completed another memoir called A Whole New Life in 1994 which chronicled his journey after the discovery of cancer in his spine. The Collected Poems, containing four volumes of poetry – Vital Provisions (1982), The Laws of Ice (1986), The Use of Fire (1990), and The Unaccountable Worth of the World (1997) – was published in 1997.[7]

A Timeline of Price's life, based largely on the chronology found in Conversations with Reynolds Price[8]

Price entered the realm of pop culture with the release and Top-40 status of James Taylor’s song “Copperline,” which he and Taylor wrote together. Bill Clinton characterized Price as one of his favorite authors.[9]

On the cover of the December 1999 issue of Time magazine, Price's name appeared. Victor Strandberg explains, "Price's name was next to a Renaissance portrait of Jesus alongside a headline that reads, ‘Novelist Reynolds Price offers a new Gospel based on archeology and the Bible.’ Inside the magazine, this cover story begins with Time's statement that ‘A great novelist and biblical scholar examines what faith and historical research tell us after 2,000 years and emerges with his own apocryphal Gospel’.”[3]

Personal life

Price lived alone, by choice, for all of his adult life and was openly homosexual.[10]

Shortly after dawn on July 3, 1984, in the midst of treatment for his tumor, Price awoke in his bed and claims to have had a life-changing mystic experience and vision in which he came in contact with Jesus Christ at the Sea of Galilee. Price gives an account of this occurrence in A Whole New Life:

It was the big lake of Kinnereth, the Sea of Galilee, in the north of It's not my sins I'm worried about. So to Jesus' receding back, I had the gall to say "Am I also cured?" He turned to face me, no sign of a smile, and finally said two words—"That too."[4]


Despite the success of his best-selling novels and nationwide recognition the cover of Time, Price has received a lesser degree of recognition than many of his contemporaries in American literature. James Schiff explains, "Despite the praise from reviewers, Price has not received a great deal of scholarly attention – certainly less than other members of his literary generation, such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, John Barth, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo, and Cynthia Ozick."[2] But although he is less well-known than such writers, Price is widely celebrated by the literary community and the majority of his readers.

List of Publications


  1. ^ a b c d "Reynolds Price author and long-time Duke English professor, dies." Duke Office of News and Communications. 20 Jan 2011. Web.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schiff, James. Understanding Reynolds Price. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996. Print.
  3. ^ a b Strandberg, Victor. “The Religious/Erotic Poetry of Reynolds Price.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring 2002): 61-86. Web.
  4. ^ a b Price, Reynolds. A Whole New Life. New York: Scribner, 1995. Print.
  5. ^ Grimes, William. "Reynolds Price, a Literary Voice of the South, Dies at 77." The New York Times 20 Jan 2011. 14 April 2013. Web.
  6. ^ Schudel, Matt. "Reynolds Price, Southern novelist and memoirist, Dies at 77." The Washington Post 22 Jan 2011. 14 April 2013. Web.
  7. ^ Price, Reynolds. The Collected Poems. New York: Scribner, 1997. Print.
  8. ^ Humphries, Jefferson. Conversations with Reynolds Price. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson and London, 1991. Print.
  9. ^ Chase, Matthew. "Reynolds Price." The Chronicle 21 Jan 2011. 14 April 2013. Web.
  10. ^ Garner, Dwight. "An American Writer, Coming of Age in Oxford." The New York Times 12 May 2009. 14 April 2013. Web.

External links

  • Price's Duke University page
  • New York Times reviews of Price's books
  • Collected PoemsReview of Price's
  • StorySouth review of Price's Collected Stories
  • 'Ralph' magazine review of Price's memoir
  • Sensual in the South Edmund White on Price from The New York Review of Books
  • Obituary of Reynolds Price by the Rhodes Trust
  • Profile on PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly January 21, 2011
  • Appreciation on Charlie Rose
  • Interview on 2009 on Charlie Rose Show
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