On Becoming an American Writer
James Alan McPherson (1943–2016), a native of Savannah, Georgia, was recently selected for induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. He won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with his second short-story collection, Elbow Room, and in 1981 he was in the inaugural group of MacArthur Fellowship recipients. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences added McPherson to its membership in 1995, and in 2000 his “Gold Coast” was included by editor John Updike in Houghton Mifflin’s Best Short Stories of the Century. McPherson was educated at Morgan State University, Morris Brown College, and Harvard Law School—after which he decided to get an MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1971). Elbow Room was preceded by the fiction collection Hue and Cry (1969) and followed by two nonfiction works, Crabcakes: A Memoir (1998) and A Region Not Home: Reflections on Exile (2000). Beginning in 1969, McPherson taught briefly at the University of California–Santa Cruz, Harvard, Morgan State, and the University of Virginia; he returned to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a faculty member in 1981, and he was associated with that program for the rest of his life.