Alice McDermott's latest novel, Charming Billy (1998), which won the National Book Award, tells the tragic story of the late Billy Lynch within the complex matrix of a tightly knit Irish American community. The New York Times Book Review praised the book as "eloquent" and "heartbreaking," and Kirkus Reviews called it "a softly resonant and nostalgic tale told masterfully. . ."
Her first novel, A Bigamists' Daughter (1982), was published to wide acclaim. That Night (1987), her second novel, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In his cover review for The New York Times Book Review, David Leavitt called That Night "an original, a work that revels in a rich, discursive prose style that belongs entirely to Alice McDermott." A film version of That Night was produced by Warner Bros. and released in the spring of 1992. At Weddings and Wakes (1992), her third novel, became a New York Times bestseller. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times praised McDermott's "rich, supple prose" and Bruce Bawer called At Weddings and Wakes "a haunting and masterly work of literary art" in his review for The Wall Street Journal.
For McDermott "the hardest thing I had to do even to become a writer was believing that I had anything to say that people would want to read." She began with short stories, she explains, because "I felt I had to apologize for wanting to write fiction for a living, and with a short story there was this sense of, well, it's just a little bitty thing.
She traces the origins of this feeling to her childhood in suburban Long Island, "a place where writers were all dead people, not knowing anyone who was even close, who even worked as a secretary in a publishing house. It just seemed so remote. I remember discovering the New York Times Book Review when I was at Oswego [campus of the State University of New York], sitting out there on Lake Ontario with the Times, which we had started getting because we all realized we were going to have to begin thinking about jobs, and finding that they had this whole section about books!" - Wendy Smith in Publishers Weekly
Ms. McDermott received her B.A. in 1975 from the State University of New York at Oswego, and her M.A. in 1978 from the University of New Hampshire. She has taught at the University of California at San Diego and American University, has been a writer-in-residence at Lynchburg and Hollins Colleges in Virginia, and was lecturer in English at the University of New Hampshire. Her short stories have appeared in Ms., Redbook, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen.
The recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, Ms. McDermott is currently writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband, a neuroscientist, and three children.
Alice McDermott visited the NYS Writers Institute on September 23, 1999.
The Writer PBS Series
Writers Online Magazine, A Former Student's Reflections
Albany Times Union Article
Writers Online Magazine, Afternoon Seminar Transcript
National Book Awards Article, The Gazette Online, Johns Hopkins University