Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer

Carol Sklenicka

Scribner, 2019

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

From the acclaimed author of Raymond Carver, the first full-scale popular biography of Alice Adams (1926-1999), whose fiction chronicled the sexual revolution and women’s lives from the 1950s to the 1990s—in real time. 

“Nobody writes better about falling in love than Alice Adams,” a New York Times critic said of the acclaimed author of over a hundred published stories and eleven novels that illuminate the American century. An admired short story artist and a bestselling novelist, Adams grew up in North Carolina during the Great Depression and World War II. After college at Radcliffe and a year in Paris, she moved to California. It took a decade to sell her first story, another decade to publish a novel. As women’s expectations of themselves and society’s expectations of women shifted, Adams wrote literary fiction that brought women’s lives to the forefront. With astute, lyrical prose she portrays vibrant characters both young and old who live on the edge of their emotions, absorbed by good or bad love affairs but determined to be independent. One of only four winners of the O. Henry Continuing Achievement Award, Adams wove her life into her fiction and used her fiction to understand the changing tides of the late twentieth century.

With the same meticulous research and vivid storytelling she brought to Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, Carol Sklenicka integrates the drama of Adams’s deeply felt, elegantly fierce life with a cascade of events—the civil rights and women’s movements, the Sixties counterculture, sexual freedom. This biographer’s revealing analyses of Adams’s stories and novels from Careless Love (1966) to Superior Women (1984) to The Last Lovely City (1999), and her extensive interviews with Adams’s family and friends, among them Mary Gaitskill, Anne Lamott, and Alison Lurie, give us the definitive story of a writer often dubbed “America’s Colette.” Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer captures not just a beloved woman’s life in full, but a crucial span of American history.