Peter Taylor (writer)

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Taylor at Kenyon College. This 1941 photo (by Robie Macauley: "That doleful Kenyon snapshot") is the subject of Robert Lowell's poem, "For Peter Taylor".

Matthew Hillsman Taylor, Jr.[1] (January 8, 1917 – November 2, 1994), known professionally as Peter Taylor, was an American novelist, short story writer, and playwright.[2]


Taylor with Eleanor Ross Taylor, 1946.

Taylor was born in Trenton, Tennessee, to Matthew Hillsman "Red" Taylor, a prominent attorney who played football at Vanderbilt University in 1904 and '05, and Katherine Baird (Taylor) Taylor. His father was named after Matthew Hillsman, a long-time local Baptist pastor. His father's father, Colonel Robert Zachery Taylor, had fought for the Confederate Army as a private under Nathan Bedford Forrest and had almost been killed by night riders near Reelfoot Lake in 1908.[3] His mother's father was Robert Love Taylor, a United States Senator from Tennessee from 1907 until his death in 1912.[4]

Taylor spent his early childhood in Nashville. The family moved to St. Louis in 1926 when Taylor's father became president of the General American Life Insurance Company. In St. Louis, Taylor attended the Rossman School and St. Louis Country Day School. In 1932, the family moved to Memphis, where his father established a law practice. Taylor graduated from Central High School in Memphis in 1935. He wrote his first published piece while there, an interview with actress Katharine Cornell.[5] After a gap year in which he traveled to England, Taylor enrolled at Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis in 1936, studying under the critic Allen Tate. Tate encouraged Taylor to transfer to Vanderbilt University, which he later left to continue studying with the great American critic and poet John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, along with the poet Robert Lowell. He was also friends with Robert Penn Warren, Randall Jarrell, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Stafford, James Thackara, Robie Macauley and other significant literary figures of the time.[6]

Considered to be one of the finest American short story writers, Taylor's fictional milieu is the urban South. His characters, usually middle or upper-class people, often are living in a time of change, and struggle to discover and define their roles in society.

Taylor also wrote three novels, including A Summons to Memphis in 1986, for which he won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and In the Tennessee Country in 1994. His collection The Old Forest and Other Stories (1985) won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Taylor taught literature and writing at Kenyon and at the University of Virginia.

He was married for fifty-one years to the poet Eleanor Ross Taylor and died in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1994.


Short story collections

  • A Long Fourth and Other Stories, introduction by Robert Penn Warren, Harcourt, 1948.
  • The Widows of Thornton (includes a play), Harcourt, 1954, reprinted, Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
  • Happy Families Are All Alike: A Collection of Stories, Astor Honor, 1959.
  • Miss Leonora When Last Seen and Fifteen Other Stories, Astor Honor, 1963.
  • The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor, Farrar, Straus, 1969.[7]
  • In the Miro District and Other Stories, Knopf, 1977.
  • The Old Forest and Other Stories, Dial, 1985.
  • The Oracle at Stoneleigh Court, Knopf, 1993.


  • A Woman of Means, Harcourt, 1950; reprinted, Frederic C. Beil, 1983, Picador, 1996.
  • A Summons to Memphis, Knopf, 1986.
  • In the Tennessee Country, Knopf, 1994.


  • Tennessee Day in St. Louis, Random House, 1959.
  • A Stand in the Mountains, published in Kenyon Review, 1965; reprinted, Frederic C. Beil, 1985.
  • Presences: Seven Dramatic Pieces (contains "Two Images," "A Father and a Son," "Missing Person," "The Whistler," "Arson," "A Voice through the Door," and "The Sweethearts"), Houghton, 1973.


(Editor with Robert Lowell and Robert Penn Warren) Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965, Farrar, Straus, 1967.

Peter Taylor Reading and Commenting on His Fiction (audio tape), Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, 1987.

Awards and honors


  1. ^ McAlexander, Hubert H. (September 30, 2001). "Peter Taylor". NY Times. Retrieved October 17, 2017. 
  2. ^ Gussow, Mel (4 November 1994). "Peter Taylor, Short-Story Master, Dies at 77". NY Times. 
  3. ^ "Lawyer Escapes Mob". The Bee (Earlington KY). 1908-10-22. p. 1. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  4. ^ Alexander, Hubert Horton (2001). Peter Taylor: A Writer's Life. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 1–6. ISBN 0-8071-2973-9. 
  5. ^ Hubert Horton McAlexander, Peter Taylor: A Writer's Life, Southern Literary Studies, LSU Press, 2004 ISBN 0-8071-2973-9
  6. ^ Hubert Horton McAlexander (April 2004). Peter Taylor: A Writer's Life. LSU Press. pp. xiv, 50. ISBN 978-0-8071-2973-9. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "Second Reading: Jonathan Yardley reviews 'The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor'". The Washington Post. 1 January 2010. 

Further reading

  • Peter Taylor: A Writer's Life by Hubert H. McAlexander, Louisiana State University Press, 2001
  • "Peter Taylor: The Undergraduate Years at Kenyon," by Hubert H. McAlexander, The Kenyon Review, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 3/4 (Summer - Autumn, 1999)
  • Inventory of the Peter Taylor papers at Vanderbilt University,
  • Inventory of the Peter Hillsman Taylor Papers at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia
  • "Peter Taylor, The Art of Fiction No. 99". The Paris Review (Interview) (104). Interview with Barbara Thompson Davis. Fall 1987. 
  • Stuart Wright Collection: Peter Hillsman Taylor Papers (#1169-013), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University
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