On this day, John Gardner wins the National Book Critics Circle Award for October Light, a novel about two elderly siblings in New England.
Gardner was born in 1933 in Batavia, New York, and attended Washington University in St. Louis, later taking a doctorate in classical and medieval literature at the University of Iowa. He taught at Oberlin, Bennington, and the University of Rochester while writing novels. His first two books received little attention, but his third, Grendel, established his reputation. The book drew on Gardner’s strong grounding in the classics, retelling the story of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. His next novel, The Sunlight Dialogues, about an aging police chief and an escaped prisoner, became a bestseller. He published October Light in 1976, followed by Mickelsson’s Ghost (1982), about a disillusioned college professor.
Gardner was married and divorced twice and had two children. Four days before his third wedding was scheduled, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania at the age of 49.