James Alan McPherson

Biography of James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson (born September 16, 1943) is an American short story writer and essayist. He has been a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. McPherson is a member of the permanent faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Early life and education

McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia. He attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta, graduating in 1965. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968. He has also been educated at Morgan State University, The University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, and Yale Law School.


McPherson won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his short story collection Elbow Room, becoming the first African-American to win the Pulitzer for fiction. He was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981. His work has appeared in 27 journals and magazines, seven short-story anthologies, and The Best American Essays. In 1995 McPherson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has taught English at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Harvard University, and Yale University. He lectured in Japan with Dr. Jerald Walker at Meiji University and Chiba University.

In 2000, John Updike selected his short story "Gold Coast" for his collection Best American Short Stories of the Century (Houghton Mifflin).

In October 2011 McPherson was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Paul Engle Award from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. The Engle Award honors an individual who, like Engle, longtime director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and co-founder of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.

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