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A Nonfiction Column
By Willie Elliott

The Legacy of John O'Hara

As an English major and former high school literature teacher, I was attracted to a collection of short stories by John O'Hara.
John O'Hara, an author of many best sellers in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's with such titles as Appointment in Samarra, From the Terrace, Ten North Frederick, and Butterfield 8, always craved the attention given to William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway. It is no secret that O'Hara craved the much-coveted Nobel Prize in literature.

While O'Hara may not have received the attention he deserved for his novels, Carroll Publishers under the editorship of Matthew J. Bruccoli have insured O'Hara's standing as a top-notch short story writer with the publication of his short stories Gibbsville, PA: The Classic Stories.

The stories, which do not necessarily flow from one to another, are held together by the fact that they all are set in Gibbsville, Pa, a Polish coal mining and Jewish shopkeepers area of Pennsylvania.

This ideas of centering stories around a locale has been used by William Faulkner in his imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, Sherwood Anderson in his collection called Winesburg, Ohio and even Edgar Lee Masters in his poems about the people of Spoon River in his Spoon River Anthology.

The Preface to the collection by George V. Higgins does a terrific job of providing background information that will greatly aid the reader in understand O'Hara and his work.

Some of the stories such as the “The Doctor's Son,” while not completely autobiographical, certainly seems to have some material drawn from O'Hara's life.

One wonders why O'Hara did not receive more attention during his long literary life. One also wonders what exactly separates the serious writers from the popular much read authors. Based on what we know about this situation, we wonder who will be considered the “serious” writers from the modern age.

Whatever the case, Gibbsville, PA goes a long way in placing O'Hara among the best writer of short stories of all times. Any institution that that treasures the short story genre should get a copy of this anthology.

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