Alice Adams (1926–1999)


Alice Adams was the author of eleven novels and six collections of short stories, and was the recipient of an O. Henry Award for short fiction twenty-three times. She was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and her life and literary career spanned more than a half century of extraordinary changes for women in American society. In her writing, Adams chronicled those changes in the lives of women following World War II (1939–1945), much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, to whom she has been compared both as a prose stylist and social historian, had chronicled the emergence of the new woman after World War I (1914–1918).

Adams was born in Fredericksburg in 1926. As a child she moved with her mother and father to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her father had received a faculty appointment at the University of North Carolina. For the rest of her life, Adams would return to Virginia only briefly to visit and, from 1941 until 1943, to complete her last two years of high school at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond. Adams received her BA from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1946. Her marriage to Harvard graduate Mark Linenthal—later to become an English professor in California—ended in divorce in 1958, seven years after the birth of their only child, Peter. She lived most of her adult life in San Francisco, California, working at clerical and bookkeeping jobs to support herself and her son during the ten years before she became able to earn a living through her writing.

Although Adams’s life as a professional writer began in the mid-1960s with the publication to mixed reviews of her first novel, Careless Love (1966), and despite the publication of her stories in magazines such as Redbook and McCall’s, her career as a recognized literary artist did not begin until the 1969 publication of her story “Gift of Grass” by the New Yorker, a magazine that would publish more than twenty-five of her stories during the next thirty-five years. During her lifetime Adams’s stories and novels received numerous awards, including twenty-three O. Henry Awards (winning first prize six times and Adams’s sharing the honor of receiving an O. Henry lifetime achievement award with only John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates), three Best American Short Stories Awards, and an Academy and Institute Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

The Stories of Alice Adams

Taken together, Adams’s eleven novels constitute a complex narrative of growth for the American woman in a world whose landscape is marked by such major social and political phenomena as the civil rights movement, the first- and second-wave feminist movements, protests of the Vietnam War (1961–1975), the Watergate hearings (1973), the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the gay rights movement. Adams’s characters are, in varying degrees, aware of and shaped by these events, and the events provide the richly textured backdrop in Adams’s novels against which her characters move either toward or away from self-realization. Perhaps the best example of this among Adams’s novels is her fourth, Superior Women (1984), which chronicles the lives and relationships of five female students enrolled together at Radcliffe and follows them through the next four decades.

Adams died in San Francisco in 1999 at the age of seventy-two.

Major Works

  • Careless Love (1966)
  • Families and Survivors (1974)
  • Listening to Billie (1978)
  • Beautiful Girl (1979)
  • Rich Rewards (1980)
  • To See You Again (1982)
  • Molly’s Dog: A Story (1983)
  • Superior Women (1984)
  • Return Trips (1985)
  • Second Chances (1988)
  • After You’ve Gone (1989)
  • Mexico: Some Travels and Some Travelers There (1990)
  • Caroline’s Daughters (1991)
  • Almost Perfect (1993)
  • A Southern Exposure (1995)
  • Medicine Men (1997)
  • The Last Lovely City (1999)
  • After the War (2000)
  • The Stories of Alice Adams (2002)

August 14, 1926
Alice Adams is born in Fredericksburg.
Alice Adams graduates from Saint Catherine's School, in Richmond.
Alice Adams graduates from Radcliffe College.
Alice Adams marries Mark Linenthal.
Alice Adams and Mark Linenthal settle in San Francisco, California.
Alice Adams's son, Peter, is born.
Alice Adams and Mark Linenthal divorce.
The magazine Charm prints "Winter Rain," Alice Adams's first published story.
The New Yorker publishes "Gift of Grass," the first of twenty-seven stories by Alice Adams to appear in the magazine between 1969 and 1995.
The Virginia Quarterly Review publishes Alice Adams's story "The Last Married Man."
Alice Adams wins an O. Henry Special Award for Continuing Achievement after the twelfth consecutive appearance of her work in Prize Stories: The O'Henry Awards.
May 27, 1999
Alice Adams dies in her sleep at her home in San Francisco.
  • Chell, Cara. “Succeeding in Their Times: Alice Adams on Women and Work.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 68, no.1 (1985): 62–71.
  • Herman, Barbara A. “Alice Adams.” Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.
  • Upton, Lee. “Changing the Past: Alice Adams’ Revisionary Nostalgia.” Studies in Short Fiction 26, no. 1 (1989): 33–41.
  • Watts, Harold H. “Alice Adams” Overview,” Contemporary Novelists. Edited by Susan Windisch Brown. 6th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996.
APA Citation:
Mangum, Bryant. Alice Adams (1926–1999). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/adams-alice-1926-1999.
MLA Citation:
Mangum, Bryant. "Alice Adams (1926–1999)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 16 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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