Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Peter Taylor (1917-1994)

Peter Taylor was born on January 8, 1917, in the small community of Trenton, Tennessee. The Taylor family moved several times during Peter’s childhood. While he was still a teenager, his family moved first to Nashville, Tennessee, then to St. Louis, Missouri, finally stopping in Memphis in 1936. Hit hard by the Great Depression, Peter’s father, who was a lawyer, had to move where he could find work. Taylor enrolled in Southwestern (Rhodes College) in 1936 and began studying under Allen Tate. On a suggestion from Tate, he transferred to Vanderbilt the following year to study writing under John Crowe Ransom. When Ransom left to teach at Kenyon College in Ohio, Peter Taylor decided to follow him. There he found kindred spirits in fellow writers Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell. Just before the beginning of WWII, Taylor and Lowell moved to Louisiana State to continue studying English under Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks.

Taylor grew up in a political and literary environment in the celebrated Tennessee governor’s race of 1886 dubbed the “War of the Roses”. Taylor’s grandfather, great-grandfather, and grand-uncle all vied for the top spot. His grandfather, Robert Love Taylor, who won the governorship that year, was also a writer, as is his third-cousin, Robert. Both Peter and Robert Taylor have written about their famous family, the first in In the Tennessee Country and the second in Fiddle and Bow.

In 1940, Peter Taylor was drafted into the army, where he served for five years. Before he was to be stationed in England in 1943, he married the poet Eleanor Ross, who is still publishing, her last work of poetry, Late Leisure, appearing in 1999. Upon his return to the states, Taylor began teaching at universities all over the country: the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kenyon College, Ohio State, Harvard, and the University of Virginia. He lived and taught in Charlottesville from 1967 until his death in 1994.

Throughout his distinguished career, Taylor received numerous fellowships, grants and awards for his literary works. In 1950 he was given a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the following year received a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant. Almost twenty years later, in 1979, Taylor won the gold medal for literature from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Some of his most famous accomplishments include both the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. In 1987, Taylor received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Selected Bibliography

A Long Fourth and Other Stories (short story), 1948
The Death of a Kinsman (drama) 1949
A Woman of Means (fiction), 1950
The Widows of Thornton (fiction), 1954
Tennessee Day in St. Louis (drama), 1957
Happy Families Are all Alike: A Collection of Stories (short story), 1959
Miss Leonora when Last Seen, and Fifteen Other Stories (short story), 1963
The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor (short story), 1968
Presences: Seven One-Act Plays (drama), 1973
In the Miro District and Other Stories (short story), 1977
The Early Guest: A Sort of Story, a Sort of Play, a Sort of Dream (short story), 1982
A Summons to Memphis (fiction), 1984
A Stand in the Mountains (nonfiction), 1985
The Old Forest and Other Stories (short story), 1985
The Oracle at Stoneleigh Court: Stories (short story), 1993
In the Tennessee Country (fiction), 1994

Selected Links

Peter Taylor in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:

Peter Taylor’s profile at Southern Literary Review:

JC Robertson’s review of Summons to Memphis at Southern Literary Review: