Born: November 23, 1927
Anderson, South Carolina
Died: January 4, 2005
Guy Davenport claimed that writing fiction was just a hobby, yet he published eight collections of short stories, won a third prize in the O. Henry Awards (1974), and was awarded the 1981 Morton Dauwen Zabel award for fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He also was an accomplished teacher, scholar, essayist, poet and painter.
Hilton Kramer, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote of Davenport’s conception of the short-story form: “He has given it some of the intellectual density of the learned essay, some of the lyric concision of the modern poem — some of its difficulty, too — and a structure that often resembles a film documentary. The result is a tour de force that adds something new to the art of fiction.”
Davenport was the younger of two children of Guy Mattison Davenport, a Railway Express agent, and Marie Fant Davenport. He was educated at Duke University; Merton College, Oxford; and Harvard University. He taught English at the University of Kentucky from 1963 until his retirement in 1990.
Davenport was something of a Renaissance man, but one who believed that new ideas are not new — they have deep roots in the past. He was variously called a “postmodernist” and a “meta-modernist.” Davenport’s writing is filled with allusion and often delivered in a difficult prose style. He was frequently accused of being obscure. “I don’t think I’ve ever consciously befuddled,” he once told a Paris Review interviewer. “I might be a better writer if I didn’t tuck in things for the reader to find out … the stories can still be read; the idea is that a deeper reading will continually be rewarded — this is the standard by which obscurity can be judged.”
In 1990, Davenport received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, which is intended to be an “… investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential,” and awarded to those who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”
Davenport published more than 45 books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and with contributing countless chapters, introductions, essays, commentary, and other creative works to numerous anthologies, magazines, and journals. His best-known work was his 1981 collection of essays, The Geography of the Imagination.
“He was an unqualified genius, so he talked over everybody’s head,” said writer Erik Reece, a friend and former student. “But in a way that made you want to get to where he was.”
After retiring from UK, he published three additional volumes of short stories and three collections of essays.
Tatlin!: Six Stories (with his own illustrations). New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1974.
Da Vinci’s Bicycle: Ten Stories (with his own illustrations). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
Eclogues: Eight Stories (illustrated by Roy Behrens). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
Apples and Pears and Other Stories (with his own illustrations). San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.
The Jules Verne Steam Balloon: Nine Stories. Baltimore: North Point Press, 1987.
The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers. Baltimore: North Point Press, 1990.
The Lark (with his own illustrations). New York: Dim Gray Bar Press, 1993.
A Table of Green Fields: Ten Stories. New York: New Directions, 1993.
The Cardiff Team: Ten Stories. New York: New Directions, 1996.
Twelve Stories. Berkley, CA.: Counterpoint, 1997.
The Death of Picasso: New and Selected Writing. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003.
Wo es war, soll ich werden: The Restored Original Text. Champaign, IL.: Finial Press, 2004.
Cydonia Florentia. Cambridge, MA: The Lowell-Adams House Printers/Laurence Scott, 1966.
Flowers and Leaves: Poema vel Sonata, Carmina Autumni Primaeque Veris Transformationem (with his own illustrations). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc./Bamberger Books, 1991.
The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard. New York: Jordan Davies, 1982.
Goldfinch Thistle Star (illustrated by Lachlan Stewart). New York: Red Ozier Press, 1983.
Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations, 1950-1980. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986.
Commentary and Essays:
The Intelligence of Louis Agassiz. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963.
Key-Indexed Study Guide to Homer’s Iliad. Philadelphia, PA: Educational Research Associates, 1967.
Key-Indexed Study Guide to Homer’s Odyssey. Philadelphia, PA: Educational Research Associates, 1967.
The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981.
Cities on Hills: A Study of I-XXX of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983.
Charles Burchfield’s Seasons. Portland, OR.: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994.
The Drawings of Paul Cadmus. New York: Rizzoli Publishing, 1989.
Every Force Evolves a Form: Twenty Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.
A Balthus Notebook. New York: The Ecco Press, 1989.
The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art. Berkley, CA.: Counterpoint, 1996.
Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature. Berkley, CA.: Counterpoint, 1998.
Carmina Archilochi: The Fragments of Archilochos. Oakland, CA.: University of California Press, 1964.
Sappho: Songs and Fragments. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1965.
Herakleitos and Diogenes. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1979.
The Mimes of Herondas. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1981.
Maxims of the Ancient Egyptians (from Boris de Rachewiltz‘s Massime degli antichi egiziani, 1954). Parkstone, Poole, Dorset, UK.: The Pace Trust, 1983.
Anakreon. Tuscaloosa, Al.: The University of Alabama/Parallel Editions, 1991.
Archilochos, Sappho, Alkman: Three Lyric Poets. Oakland, CA.: University of California Press, 1980.
The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus (with Benjamin Urrutia). Berkley, CA.: Counterpoint, 1996.
Greeks. New York: New Directions, 1995.
Paintings and Drawings:
A Balance of Quinces: The Paintings and Drawings of Guy Davenport, with an essay by Erik Anderson Reece. New York: New Directions, 1996.
50 Drawings (limited edition). New York: Dim Gray Bar Press, 1996.
The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy (includes his crosshatched crow quill and ink work, 10 full-page drawings). Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2005.
The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, Beckett Comedians (includes his crosshatched crow quill and ink work, 10 full-page drawings). Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1974.
A Garden Carried in a Pocket: Letters 1964–1968: Selected Correspondence with Jonathan Williams, ed. Thomas Meyer. Green Shade, 2004.
Fragments from a Correspondence, Ed. Nicholas Kilmer. Arion: A Journal of Humanities and Classics at Boston University. Winter 2006. 89-129.
Selected Letters: Guy Davenport and James Laughlin, ed. W. C. Bamberger. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007.