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- Final Payments, 1978
- Men and Angels, 1985
- Temporary Shelter, 1987
- The Other Side, 1989
- The Rest of Life, 1993
- The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for her Father, 1996
- Spending: A Utopian Divertimento, 1998
- Joan of Arc, 2000
- Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity, 2000
- Pearl, 2005
A Bad Place To Start
|Spending: A Utopian Divertimento||1|
Mary Gordon (1949 - )
added by anna1018
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Mary Catherine Gordon has no memory of not wanting to be a writer--even when she wanted to be a nun. She was born in 1949 in Far Rockaway, New York. It was a miraculous birth, thought impossible because her mother, Anna Gagliano Gordon, was a polio victim with limited function of her lower body and was furthermore having her first child at the age of 41. Mary Kate, as the future author was then called (against her will), was an only child raised in a tightly-knit Catholic home. Her mother, who was always known as Anne, was the family breadwinner, working as a legal secretary. Mary's father, David Gordon, adored his family and radiated charm, but never radiated much cash. He worshipped intellect and religion, and cherished a dream of being a writer. The young Mary Kate adopted the same dream for herself; in the early years she wanted to be a contemplative nun. David had secrets, however. He had converted from Judaism as a young man and reinvented his identity. Mary would not discover just how much of his life story was invented until long after his death from heart failure in 1957. The loss of her father so early in her life was the most important event of Mary's youth, and she would later channel her grief into many works of fiction, and finally into her memoir, The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for her Father.
After David Gordon's death, the newly widowed Anne sold their house and moved with her 7-year-old daughter into the house where she had grown up. The Gordon women took charge of the care of Anne's mother who died soon after, and of the psychological health of her 8 siblings. Mary Kate reached adolescence in a hostile environment. Her mother's family disliked her for her love of books and for her Jewish heritage. Meanwhile Anne had developed alcoholism in the wake of her husband's and mother's deaths. Mary remained close to her mother, but took increasing comfort in her dog, Zippy, and spent many hours alone, writing.
At Mary Louis Academy, Mary successfully shed the hated "Kate" and discovered a support network in high school that compensated for her bittersweet home life. Though intellectual challenges were rare, she excelled in school and made lifelong friends. At home and at school it was assumed that if she absolutely insisted on going to college it would be at a Catholic institution. When she revealed that she had applied to Barnard College, the women's affiliate of Columbia University, the Mary Louis registrar at first refused to release her transcripts. Mary's mother was also dead set against it, and Mary eventually forced the issue by running away from home for three days and living in a friend's basement. Despite the controversy, she graduated high school with a number of awards and honors, including a Regent's scholarship, and matriculated at Barnard.
For the first two years of college, Mary continued to live at home and commuted into Manhattan every day. She worked a series of secretarial jobs in order to pay her way through Barnard, and babysat for the children of her mentor, Professor Janice Thaddeus of the English Department. Under Prof. Thaddeus' wing, Mary overcame the deficiencies of her pre-college education and came to accept that Leonard Cohen was not quite as good as Yeats. Gordon became involved in the feminist and anti-war movements of the late sixties, and has continued to contribute to progressive causes throughout her life. Within Barnard's walls, though, life was absolute bliss in the years of Sargeant Pepper and The Supremes. Gordon never forgot her gratitude to the institution that had given her the intellectual and artistic experience she had always craved.
At the time, Gordon was primarily a poet; it was not until she began an M.F.A. at Syracuse University that her focus shifted to prose. She studied at Syracuse for a number of years, but left short of a PhD in order to marry Jim Brain, an English Professor from Poughkeepsie, NY who was nearly thirty years her senior. To support her writing, Mary taught writing at Duchess County Community College, and she and her husband lived in London for a year. The marriage, however, quickly foundered, and finally dissolved when she became involved with Arthur Cash. He too, was an English Professor, and nearly as old as Brain, but the two men were as different as night and day. Mary moved into his house in New Paltz, NY, near the State University where he taught, and after a long courtship (kept secret from Mary's mother), they married in 1979. December 1, 2004 marked their 25th anniversary. Anne Gordon liked Cash so much that she decided to overlook the double sin of Mary's divorce and her new husband's Protestantism. Anne eventually retired and moved into a house a few blocks away in New Paltz.
1979 was also the year in which Gordon's first novel, Final Payments, was published, to tremendous critical acclaim. This was followed quickly by The Company of Women in 1980. The success of her novels helped her to obtain a teaching position at Amherst College, where she remained for a few years. Although she continued to write poetry, essays, reviews and nonfiction, her attention was divided by the birth of her children, Anna and David, and it was five years before her next book was published. 1985 brought Men and Angels, a novel about a working mother who develops a dangerous relationship to the woman who cares for her children. It remains her best-selling book. She followed that up with a collection of short stories entitled Temporary Shelter in 1987, and The Other Side, a novel, in 1988.
When Barnard College offered Gordon a teaching position in 1989, she leapt at the chance to return to the place that had nurtured her young talent. After a year as an adjunct she accepted the Millicent Macintosh Chair of English. The family moved to Manhattan, and Arthur commuted to New Paltz for many years in order to continue teaching. Prof. Gordon was an instant success as a teacher, receiving consistently outstanding praise from her students and flooded registration for her lecture classes. When she received tenure in 1994, the strength of her publications was such that she was the only faculty member without a PhD to receive tenure at any of Columbia's schools and affiliates.
The nineties saw the publication of The Rest of Life, a collection of three novellas (The second of these, entitled "Immaculate Man," told a controversial story of a Catholic priest who has an affair with one of his congregants. It is dedicated to Dr. Maureen Strafford, who was an old friend from Mary Louis Academy and who was immediately rumored to have had an affair with a priest. She had not). For many years Mary had been researching the story her father's life which he had so dexterously hidden from those closest to him. The Shadow Man was the culmination of that work, and it proved a great strain. To cheer herself up, she wrote Spending: A Utopian Divertimento, a book whose subtitle has confused readers ever since. Suffice it to say that the idea for the book was born from Gordon's irritation that so few works of fiction feature a woman enjoying sex without someone dying as a result.
Gordon also produced many works of nonfiction, some of which were published as books. Good Boys and Dead Girls, a collection of essays, had been published in 1991, and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity was published in 2003. When Penguin Books approached Gordon to contribute a popular biography to their Lives series, she chose to write on Joan of Arc. Although she had no formal background as a historian, the book was such a success that it won her the O.B. Hardison award for the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies.
Nonetheless, it has been seven years since Gordon, who is most famous as a novelist, has published a novel. Her highly anticipated new novel, Pearl, will be published in early 2005. It is the story of a young American woman who stages a hunger strike in Dublin, Ireland, and of her mother and godfather who are trying to save her in what may be her last hours. Gordon is currently at work on a memoir about her mother. Anne Gordon died of heart failure, after a long illness that had robbed her of most of her memory, on Christmas Eve of 2002.
Mary Gordon still lives in Manhattan with Arthur, who is now retired and awaiting the publication of his own book, a popular biography of John Wilkes. She teaches at Barnard, where she continues to be worshipped by her students. The Gordon-Cashes also have a home in Hope Valley, Rhode Island, where they spend the summer and many weekends with Rhoda, their Labrador-Chow mix. Mary works insanely hard, and has amassed a curriculum vitae that will make her friends, family and readers proud for generations.