MORRIS, WRIGHT (1910-1998)
Wright Morris, novelist and photographer, was born in Central City, Nebraska, on January 6, 1910. His mother died when he was six days old. Morris lived with his father in towns along the Platte and in Omaha before moving to Chicago in 1924. In subsequent years, Morris traveled widely in Mexico and Europe before settling in Mill Valley, California, where he died on April 25, 1998.
Of his more than thirty books, Morris is best known for his photo-texts and the novels that probe origins, identity, and the significance of the Plains in shaping human character and experience. Morris's tone of inquiry is cogently expressed in the photo-text novel The Home Place (1948) by protagonist Clyde Muncy: "There's too much sky out here . . . too much horizontal, . . . so that the exclamation, the perpendicular, had to come. Anyone who was born and raised on the plains knows that the high false front on the Feed Store, and the white water tower, are not a question of vanity. It's a problem of being. Of knowing you are there." Muncy's nostalgia is tempered in The World in the Attic (1949) by nausea, an emotional reaction that warns him against excessive indulgence in the past. In later novels Morris examines, with comic compassion, the consciousness of those who live where "there is no place to hide"–even, in Ceremony in Lone Tree (1960), from the likes of mass murderer Charles Starkweather.
In his final novel, Plains Song for Female Voices (1980), Sharon Atkins comes to understand that complete "escape" from the Plains is impossible. Morris explores his own umbilical connections to Nebraska in the photo-text God's Country and My People (1968) and his memoir, Will's Boy (1981). At its best, his words and photographs salvage the post- Depression era from dissolution by time and human fallibility.
Joseph J. Wydeven Bellevue University
Knoll, Robert, ed. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Wydeven, Joseph J. Wright Morris Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1998.