Underrated Novelists Week: Josephine Winslow Johnson

My Underrated Novelists Week continues with Josephine Winslow Johnson, an absolutely wonderful author, whom barely anyone seems to have heard of, despite her winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, Now in November.

41cx2tqi5ll-_ux250_Josephine Winslow Johnson (1910-1990)
Born in: Kirkwood, Missouri
Died in: Batavia, Ohio
Education: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Josephine Johnson attended Washington University between 1926 and 1931, but did not earn a degree.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel, when she was just twenty-four years old.  Johnson went on to publish several books, before marrying Grant G. Gannon in 1942, and moving to Iowa City.  She taught at the University of Iowa for three years, before giving birth to one son and three daughters.  She and her husband moved again, from Iowa to Hamilton County in Ohio, and finally settled in Clermont County in the same state.  She died of pneumonia at the age of seventy-nine.

Now in November (1934)
Winter Orchard and Other Stories (1936)
Jordanstown (1937)
Year’s End (1939; poetry)
Paulina Pot (1939; children’s)
Wildwood (1947)
The Dark Traveler (1963)
The Sorcerer’s Son and Other Stories (1965)
The Inland Island (1969; essays)
Seven Houses (1973; memoir)
The Circle of Seasons (1974)

Book to begin with: Now in November 2702515
Brilliant, evocative, poetic, savage, this Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel (1934) written when Josephine Winslow Johnson was only 24, depicts a white, middle-class urban family that is turned into dirt-poor farmers by the Depression and the great drought of the thirties. The novel moves through a single year and, at the same time, a decade of years, from the spring arrival of the family at their mortgaged farm to the winter 10 years later, when the ravages of drought, fire, and personal anguish have led to the deaths of two of the five. Like Ethan Frome, the relatively brief, intense story evokes the torment possible among people isolated and driven by strong feelings of love and hate that, unexpressed, lead inevitably to doom. Reviewers in the thirties praised the novel, calling its prose “profoundly moving music,” expressing incredulity “that this mature style and this mature point of view are those of a young women in her twenties,” comparing the book to “the luminous work of Willa Cather,” and, with prescience, suggesting that it “has that rare quality of timelessness which is the mark of first-rate fiction.”

Purchase from The Book Depository

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