Jayne Anne Phillips


by Carolyn Williams


Jayne Anne Phillips inaugurated last year’s Writers at Rutgers Reading Series on September 26, 2007. A well-known writer of fiction, Phillips is the director of the new MFA Program in Creative Writing at Rutgers–Newark, and shares our goal, here at Rutgers–New Brunswick, of bringing great writers to our campuses.

Phillips is known both for her short story collections and her novels. The stories in Black Tickets were received in 1979 with admiration amounting to astonishment. Praised for its experimentations in narrative voice, Black Tickets also featured quirky, brooding, and inventive characters that still seem representative of their time. Along with Fast Lanes, another well-known collection, Black Tickets has had a strong shaping effect on the genre of the short story.

Phillips’s first novel, Machine Dreams, follows one American family from World War II to the Vietnam War. This family’s trials and triumphs, both individual and collective, seem to be symptomatic of developments in national and world history, yet they are vividly imagined as particular and concrete. A New York Times bestseller, Machine Dreams was featured by the Times Book Review as one of twelve best books of the year.

Shelter, Phillips’s second novel, was named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. The novel records a strange and frightening intersection of characters at a summer camp for girls in the summer of 1963. It is a story both about loss of innocence and rites of passage, as well as a story of primeval violence, communal relations, and the ineradicable effects of childhood experience.

The mysteries of family life continue to inform Phillips’s most recent novel, WomanKind, which explores the largest questions of birth and death in one character’s experience. A parent dies and a child is born, while the central character struggles to maintain her balance and creativity.

Jayne Anne Phillips has been recognized for her work with a Pushcart Prize, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe College.