A Short Biography of Andre Dubus
Andre Dubus (August 11, 1936–February 24, 1999) was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana to a Cajun-Irish family and educated in Catholic schools. After peacetime service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Dubus attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he earned his MFA in 1965. In 1966, he moved north, settling in Haverhill, Massachusetts to teach literature and creative writing at Bradford College until his retirement.
Dubus’s short stories and novellas appeared in distinguished literary journals such as Ploughshares, The Paris Review, The Sewanee Review, and The Southern Review, as well as national magazines such as Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Playboy. In addition to his many short story collections, he published two collections of essays: Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Movable Chair. The award-winning films In the Bedroom and We Don’t Live Here Anymore were adapted from his stories.
His prose earned him a MacArthur “Genius” Award, the PEN / Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Jean Stein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and nominations for a National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize.
Andre Dubus published just one novel during his career: The Lieutenant (Dial Press, 1967). After falling under the spell of Anton Chekhov, Dubus would consciously devote himself to the short story and novella for the rest of his life. While his stories were revered when they appeared in literary journals and magazines, after the publication of his novel, Dubus received rejection after rejection when it came to publishing a collection of his stories.
Literary agent Philip G. Spitzer became one of Dubus’s earliest and most loyal supporters. During a casual lunch in New York City, Spitzer handed David R. Godine a plain manila envelope with the manuscript for Separate Flights. Godine called Spitzer the next day and offered to publish the collection. In the end, Dubus waited seven rejection-filled years between the publication of his novel and his first short story collection.
In a 1998 interview with Glimmer Train, Dubus recalled “The rejections that really hurt during that period after I published The Lieutenant were not the rejections slips that said ‘I don’t like the collection of stories,’ but the ones that said, ‘We’ll publish this collection of stories if you write a novel.’ That hurt. I thought I was being told to be somebody else.”
Neither Spitzer nor Godine insisted Dubus write a novel but instead supported his devotion to the short story. Godine quickly realized, “there was more punch contained in one Dubus short story than in 99.98% of all the novels being published. I still feel that way.”
“I’m one of the luckiest short story writers in America because of Godine,” Dubus told the Black Warrior Review in 1983. “How many publishers would publish four collections of stories by a writer, without one novel?” Indeed, the closest Godine ever came to publishing a novel by Dubus was issuing the long novella Voices from the Moon as a gorgeously designed standalone book in 1984; the novella appears in full in volume three of this collection, The Cross Country Runner.
Dubus’s devotion to the short story form—the novella bears a much closer relation to being a long short story than being a short novel—fit him not simply as a prose form, but from a philosophical stance. “I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live,” he once wrote. “They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.”
In 1986, while attempting to aid two motorists on a highway in Massachusetts, Dubus was struck by an oncoming car traveling nearly sixty miles an hour. Dubus had stopped at what he thought was a car broken down in the travel lane. The car, it turned out, had become wedged on a motorcycle abandoned in the middle of the highway. As Dubus helped the two motorists—Luis and Luz Santiago, a brother and sister from Puerto Rico—to safety, another car approached. Dubus pushed Luz out of the way. Luis, a young man of only twenty-three, was hit and killed instantly. Dubus was struck, thrown over the car’s hood; a quarter found in Dubus’s pocket after the accident had been bent in half by the impact.
While it’s startling that Dubus somehow managed to even survive the blow, the accident left him with thirty-four broken bones. He lost his left leg below the knee and his right leg was crushed to the point of uselessness. He would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his. After the accident, Dubus was unable to write for some time. He eventually found his way back to writing fiction, in part, by writing a series of powerful essays. In need of money for medical and living expenses, Dubus finally—with the blessing of his longtime publisher, David Godine—accepted an offer from a large New York City publisher. A full decade after Dubus’s accident, Dancing After Hours appeared in 1996, published by Alfred A. Knopf, and went on to be named a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award; the fourteen stories in that collection are his only stories not included in this three volume collection.
On February 24, 1999, at the age of sixty-two, Dubus suffered a fatal heart attack. He was laid to rest in Haverhill, Massachusetts, in a simple casket handmade by his sons.
Introduction © 2017 by Joshua Bodwell
Additional information on Dubus can be found here.