Winston Groom Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Washington, D.C., 1943. Education: University of Alabama, A.B. 1965. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1965-67: served in Vietnam, became captain. Career: Reporter and later columnist, Washington Star, Washington, D.C., 1967-76; full-time novelist, 1976—. Awards: Best fiction award (Southern Library Association), 1980. Agent: Theron Raines, Raines & Raines, 71 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016, U.S.A.
Better Times Than These. New York, Summit Books, 1978.
As Summers Die. New York, Summit Books, 1980.
Only. New York, Putnam, 1984.
Forrest Gump. New York, Doubleday, 1986.
Gone the Sun. New York, Doubleday, 1988.
Gump & Co. New York, Pocket Books, 1995.
Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl. New York, Random House, 1999.
Conversations with the Enemy: The Story of PFC Robert Garwood(with Duncan Spencer). New York, Putnam, 1983.
Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville—The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War. Boston, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994.
Gumpisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump. New York, PocketBooks, 1994.
The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook. Birmingham, Alabama, Oxmoor House, 1994.
Forrest Gump: My Favorite Chocolate Recipes: Mama's Fudge, Cookies, Cakes, and Candies. Leisure Arts, 1995.
The Crimson Tide: An Illustrated History of Football at the University of Alabama. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2000.
Foreword, James Jones: A Friendship by Willie Morris. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Forrest Gump, 1994.
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Winston Groom is a Southern novelist in the truest sense of the word. His Southernness permeates both his novels and his non-fiction. His characters speak with Southern voices, and life in his novels moves according to a distinctly Southern timeline. Following the tradition of other Southern writers like William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and Pat Conroy, Groom lovingly peoples his books with quirky characters who pay homage to Southern history and the modern-day South in a single breath. While the South is more evident in his novels, Groom's non-fiction also echoes his Southern roots.
Groom was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. After a stint in the Army, Groom returned to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a reporter on the now defunct Washington Star, covering the political and court beat. Willie Morris, the newspaper's writer-in-residence believed that young Groom had the potential to become a writer and encouraged him to go to New York. In the Big Apple, the newly single Groom spent little time writing. Most of the time, he hung out with literary cronies like James Jones, George Plimpton, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Irwin Shaw, and Truman Capote. It was an essential learning experience for Groom, but to him New York was alien territory.
Returning to Alabama, Groom settled down to writing and enjoying life with his second wife and his dogs. The return to his native South was beneficial to Groom. His strong sense of place thrived on the day-to-day replenishment of Southern life and Southern people. Groom believes that Southerners make good storytellers because they are surrounded by families and friends who like to relate life's experiences. Sometimes the writer embellishes the story, but the strength of the narrative is found in the absorption of the story into his/her own conscious memory. This interweaving of past and present is an essential ingredient of Southern novels.
The name of Winston Groom will forever be associated with the award-winning movie Forrest Gump. Groom wrote Forrest Gump in 1986, and the novel about an amiable slow-witted Southern man who achieved success and adventure sold a respectable 40, 000 copies. When Paramount bought the right to his fourth novel in 1994, Groom's life changed forever. The re-release of Forrest Gump in 1994 sold more than 1.7 million copies. The movie grossed over $657 million worldwide, garnering six Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best actor. The immensely popular Tom Hanks brought Forrest Gump to endearing life, and Forrest's assertion that, according to his mama, "life is like a bowl of chocolates" became part of the American language.
The Forrest Gump phenomenon so intrigued the American public that Groom wrote Gumpisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump and two Forrest Gump cookbooks. Forrest Gump hats and T-shirts appeared around the country. In the furor over the movie and Hank's almost unheard of back-to-back Oscars, the fact that Groom was a respected author of both fiction and non-fiction works was somewhat overshadowed.
Forrest Gump chronicles the life of the title character, a slow-thinking individual with an I.Q. of 75. Despite what many would see as drawbacks, Forrest becomes an All-American football hero with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. It is obvious that Groom likes Forrest Gump. The author insists that the novel is about dignity. He argues that Forrest was not a symbol of conservatism and had no political agenda. Not everyone liked Forrest Gump. He was perceived by some critics as too simplistic, too unrealistic, and too predictable. It has been said that Southerners celebrate their eccentrics rather than hiding them. It follows, then, that Forrest Gump is a celebration of Southern eccentricities.
Groom's Forrest Gump sequel in 1995, Gump & Co. tied up loose ends in Forrest's life and reportedly made a good deal of money for Groom, but it never achieved the wide appeal of the original. Groom knew that critics would be gunning for him. By the time that Groom wrote Gump & Co., Forrest Gump belonged to America as much as to the author who created him. Forrest, like his creator, had learned a lesson from the success of the movie about his life; and in Gump & Co., he cautions readers "don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story."
As a result of the years before Forrest Gump became a household name, Groom became a writer who wrote simply to tell a story. His novels published before and after Forrest Gump reveal that he is a master storyteller. Groom determined that he would continue to write whatever he wished. Admittedly an eclectic anachronism, Groom asserted that he would stop writing and practice law when he stopped having fun.
Better Times Than These, Groom's first novel, explored his firsthand experience of the Vietnam conflict where he served 1966-67.
He wrote with heartbreaking reality of the Bravo Company facing a world and a situation that was unlike anything they had ever known. Critics hailed Better Times Than These as a landmark treatment of the American experience in Vietnam. It is from the perspective of a Southern writer who lives daily with the specter of Vietnam that Better Times Than These is written. With the horrors of Vietnam behind him, Billy Kahn realizes that those who survived had inherited a legacy from the dead, a charge to go back to being "bankers or salesmen, or service-station attendants, or farmers, or forklift operators or geologists." He understands that the important thing is "to have a place to go and be with people like themselves, since anyone who hadn't been there probably wouldn't know what in hell you were talking about."
Groom's second novel is set in 1950s Louisiana. As Summers Die tells the story of Willie Croft, a small town lawyer who has settled into an unexciting life where each day follows the next with predictable regularity. Willie's placidity is shaken up when black sharecroppers discover oil. Groom handles the resulting upheaval with a master's touch, presenting a segregated South with a stranglehold on the last vestiges of its glory days faced with a second great battle that will change the fabric of their lives forever. Critics complained that the novel's characters were all either good or bad, which resulted in an overly moralistic novel. However, this is one of the strengths of the novel because the period of desegregation was a time when right and wrong were clearly drawn lines in the sand.
Gone the Sun allowed Groom to explore the experiences of Beau Gunn, a Vietnam veteran who returns home to Alabama to take over a failing newspaper. In the course of his work, Groom finds that the people of Bienville are hiding many secrets. Gunn's determination to see justice done starts him on a journey of self-discovery, where he must deal with unresolved relationships and lost ideals. Groom reveals in Gone the Sun that he can go beyond telling a story to unraveling complex relationships and experiences. With a sure touch, he peoples the town of Bienville with characters that are shaped both by the world around them and a past they can never escape.
Such A Pretty, Pretty Girl signaled Groom's first foray into the thriller genre. Critics saw Such A Pretty, Pretty Girl as Groom's homage to 1940s Hollywood. Groom's protagonist is Johnny Lightfoot, a well-known screenwriter who is obsessed with his former girlfriend Delia Jamison, a Los Angeles news anchor. The lovely Delia has a past strewn with broken hearts and rejected lovers. Johnny Lightfoot is flawed by his inability to redeem himself. He believes that his redemption can be achieved by saving Delia from herself and her pursuers because the success of his quest will prove to both Johnny and Delia that he is worthy of being loved.
A respectable body of non-fiction works by Groom attests to his credibility as a chronicler of fact as well as of fiction. Conversations with the Enemy: The Story of PFC Robert Garwood, written with Duncan Spencer, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. PFC Robert Garwood is taken prisoner in Vietnam. Initially, Garwood is placed in a cage by himself with no one to talk to and nothing to relieve the boredom of prison life. Over a period of time, other prisoners appear, and life takes on a survival-of-the-fittest mentality as each of the Americans attempts to survive whatever the cost to his compatriots. Conversations with the Enemy is more indicative of Groom's journalistic career than of his experience as a respected novelist.
Groom's Shrouds of Glory was a labor of love in which he told the Civil War narrative of beleaguered John Bell Hood, a Southern general convinced that his efforts could turn the tide of the war. Reviews of the book were mixed. Some critics claimed that the book was boring in its attention to details, while others argued that Groom made the battles come alive. Groom's own great-grandfather participated in the defense of Atlanta, and his personal interest in the Southern campaign is evident.
The praise for Groom's non-fiction is well deserved, but it is as a chronicler of tales that Groom is at his best. He has a natural gift for well-written dialogue, and his strong sense of place draws the reader into his fictional world. Groom brings the Old South and the New South together in a seamless whole. His writing represents the best of Southern fiction in the latter half of the twentieth century. As Jenny's ghost takes leave of Forrest Gump in Gump & Co., she leaves him with her philosophy of life: "Memories are what count in life, Forrest, when there's nothing else left, it'll be the memories that mean everything." Jenny's parting words sum up Groom's success as a writer. He builds on memories that are the product of his own experiences and that of his beloved South, and he leaves his readers with the memory of well-crafted characters who live on in individual memories.
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