• Birth—October 17, 1950
• Where—Norwich, Connecticut, USA
• Education—B.A., M.A., University of Connecticut;
M.F.A., University of Vermont
• Awards—(see below)
• Currently—lives in Connecticut
Wally Lamb is an American author of several novels, including She's Come Undone (1992) and I Know This Much Is True (1998), The Hour I First Believed (2008), and We Are Water (2013). The first two books were Oprah Book Club selections. Lamb was the director of the Writing Center at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich from 1989 to 1998 and has taught Creative Writing in the English Department at the University of Connecticut.
Lamb was born to a working-class family in Norwich, Connecticut. Three Rivers, the fictional town where several of his novels are set, is based on Norwich and the nearby towns of New London, Willimantic, Connecticut, and Westerly, Rhode Island. As a child, Lamb loved to draw and create his own comic books—activities which, he says, gave him "a leg up" on the imagery and colloquial dialogue that characterize his stories. He credits his ability to write in female voices, as well as male, with having grown up with older sisters in a neighborhood largely populated by girls.
After graduating from high school, Lamb studied at the University of Connecticut during the turbulent early 1970s era of anti-war and civil-rights protests and student strikes. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Education from the University of Connecticut and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College.
Lamb began writing in 1981, the year he became a first-time father. Lamb's first published stories were short fictions that appeared in Northeast, a Sunday magazine of the Hartford Courant. "Astronauts," published in the Missouri Review in 1989, won the Missouri Review William Penden Prize and became widely anthologize
d. His first novel, She's Come Undone, was followed six years later by I Know This Much Is True, a story about identical twin brothers, one of whom develops paranoid schizophrenia. Both novels became number one bestsellers after Oprah Winfrey selected them for her popular Book Club. Lamb's third novel, The Hour I First Believed, published in 2008, interfaces fiction with such non-fictional events as the Columbine High School shooting, the Iraq War, and, in a story within the story, events of nineteenth-century America. Published the following year, Wishin' and Hopin' was a departure for Lamb: a short, comically nostalgic novel about a parochial school fifth grader, set in 1964. In We Are Water, Lamb returns to his familiar setting of Three Rivers. The novel focuses on art, 1950s-era racial strife, and the impact of a devastating flood on a Connecticut family.
Lamb taught English and writing for 25 years at the Norwich Free Academy, a regional high school that was his alma mater. In his last years at the school, Lamb designed and implemented the school's Writing Center, where he instructed students in writing across the disciplines. As a result of his work for this program, he was chosen the Norwich Free Academy's first Teacher of the Year and later was named a finalist for the honor of Connecticut Teacher of the Year (1989). From 1997 to 1999, he was an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Connecticut. As the school's Director of Creative Writing, he originated a student-staffed literary and arts magazine, The Long River Review.
From 1999 to the present, Lamb has facilitated a writing program for incarcerated women at the York Correctional Institute, Connecticut's only women's prison in Niantic, Connecticut. The program has produced two collections of his inmate students' autobiographical writing, Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters and I'll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison, both of which Lamb edited.
The publication of the first book became a source of controversy and media attention when, a week before its release, the State of Connecticut unexpectedly sued its incarcerated contributors—not for the six thousand dollars each writer would collect after her release from prison but for the entire cost of her incarceration, calculated at $117 per day times the number of days in her prison sentence. When one of the writers won a PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award, given to a writer whose freedom of speech is under attack, the prison destroyed the women's writing and moved to close down Lamb's program. These actions caught the interest of the CBS 60 Minute; the State of Connecticut settled the lawsuit and reinstated the program shortly before the show was aired.
Lamb says he draws influence from masters of long- and short-form fiction, among them John Updike, Flannery O'Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Raymond Carver, and Andre Dubus.
He credits his perennial teaching of certain novels to high school students with teaching him about "the scaffolding" of longer stories. Among these, Lamb lists Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. He says Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and other anthropological analyses of the commonalities of ancient myths from diverse world cultures helped him to figure out the ways in which stories, ancient and modern, can illuminate the human condition. Lamb has also stated that he is influenced by pop culture and artists who work in other media. Among these he mentions painters Edward Hopper and René Magritte.
Honors and awards
Lamb's writing awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the Connecticut Center for the Book's Lifetime Achievement Award, selections by Oprah's Book Club and Germany's Bertelsmann Book Club, the Pushcart Prize, the New England Book Award for Fiction, and New York Times Notable Books of the Year listings.
She's Come Undone was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times's Best First Novel Award and one of People magazine's Top Ten Books of the Year. I Know This Much Is True won the Friends of the Library USA Readers' Choice Award for best novel of 1998 and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's Kenneth Johnson Award for its anti-stigmatizing of mental illness.
Teaching awards for Lamb include a national Apple Computers "Thanks to Teachers" Excellence Award and the Barnes and Noble "Writers Helping Writers" Award for his work with incarcerated women. Lamb has received Honorary Doctoral Degrees from several colleges and universities and was awarded Distinguished Alumni awards from Vermont College of Fine Arts and the University of Connecticut. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/14/13.)
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