Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin

Read a Welcome letter from Gail

Gail Godwin was born in Birmingham, Alabama June 18, 1937, during the summer her father was managing a Krahenbuhl cousin’s lakeside resort. (Gail’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Krahenbuhl, a first generation Swiss-American, was raised in Alabama.)  Gail’s parents divorced soon after, and she and her mother and newly widowed grandmother, Edna Rogers Krahenbuhl, moved back to the mountains of Asheville, N.C., the grandmother’s home.  In Asheville, Kathleen Godwin supported the family by teaching at two colleges, working as a newspaper reporter, and writing romance stories for pulp magazines.  Gail attended St. Genevieve’s of the Pines, a Catholic school for girls, through the ninth grade.  Her new novel, Unfinished Desires, was inspired by St. Genevieve’s.  Her mother remarried when Godwin was eleven, and the family moved frequently after that. Godwin attended five high schools in four years.  She reunited with her father at her high school graduation from Woodrow Wilson in Portsmouth, and went to live with him in Smithfield, N.C.  Godwin graduated from Peace Junior College in Raleigh, N.C., (see “Old Lovegood Girls” in Evenings at Five and Five New Stories) and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a BA in journalism in 1959.  While she was at Chapel Hill, her father committed suicide. Years later, she would memorialize him as Uncle Ambrose in her novel Violet Clay.

After graduation, she worked as a reporter on the Miami Herald (a year that inspired Queen of the Underworld) and subsequently traveled to Europe, working for the United States Travel Service at the US Embassy in London.  (These years are documented in Volume One of The Making of a Writer, and also treated in her novella “Mr. Bedford” in Mr. Bedford and the Muses.)In 1967, she was accepted into the Writers’ Workshop program at the University of Iowa.  Along with John Irving and John Casey, she studied with Kurt Vonnegut.  Her Ph.D. dissertation was published in 1970 as her first novel, The Perfectionists, thus launching a long and prolific career as a writer.

Three of her novels, The Odd Woman, Violet Clay, and A Mother and Two Daughters, were National Book Award finalists and five of them (A Mother and Two Daughters, The Finishing School, A Southern Family, Father Melancholy’s Daughter, and Evensong) were New York Times best sellers.Godwin has lived in Woodstock, N.Y. since 1976 with her long time companion, the composer Robert Starer, who died in 2001.  Together they wrote ten musical works, including the chamber opera The Other Voice: A Portrait of Hilda of Whitby, available from Selah Publishing Company: www.selahpub.com.  Evenings at Five is a novella based on Godwin’s and Starer’s life together.  Godwin received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment grants, one for fiction and one for libretto writing.  Her archives are in the Southern Historical Collection, the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

More on Gail:

Gail is featured in Narrative Magazine: An interview with Pia Z. Ehrhardt

View Gail's degrees, honors, and awards

Her thirteen novels, two story collections, and non-fiction works are:

The Perfectionists (Harper & Row, 1970)

Glass People (Knopf, 1972)

The Odd Woman (Knopf, 1974)  National Book Award Finalist

Dream Children (Knopf, 1976) Story collection

Violet Clay (Knopf, 1978)  National Book Award Finalist

A Mother and Two Daughters (Viking, 1982)  National Book Award Finalist.  Three months on the New York Times bestseller list. #1 on the New York Times paperback bestseller list.

Mr. Bedford and the Muses (Viking, 1983) A novella and five stories

The Finishing School (Viking, 1984) New York Times bestseller

A Southern Family (Morrow, 1987) New York Times bestseller

Father Melancholy’s Daughter (Morrow, 1991) New York Times bestseller

The Good Husband (Ballantine, 1994)

Evensong (Ballantine, 1999) New York Times bestseller

Heart: A Natural History of the Heart-Filled Life (Harper Collins, 2001) Godwin’s first work of non-fiction.

Evenings at Five (Ballantine, 2003)

Queen of the Underworld (Random House, 2006)

The Making of a Writer, Volume One (Random House, 2006)

Unfinished Desires (Random House, 2009)

The Making of a Writer, Volume 2: Journals, 1963-1969 (Random House, 2011)

Flora (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Publishing: A Writer's Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Grief Cottage (Bloomsbury, 2017)