Morris, Wright

Morris, Wright

Morris, Wright (Wright Marion Morris), 1910-98, American writer, b. Central City, Nebr. He was for many years professor of English at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State Univ.). His fiction treats the relationship of the burden of American history to the present, and the evolution and continuity of the American character. His novels include The World in the Attic (1949), Love among the Cannibals (1957), Fire Sermon (1971), and Plains Song (1980). The Territory Ahead (1958) is a study of American literary tradition, and About Fiction (1975) is a critical work. Morris was also a photographer, noted particularly for his images of the Great Plains and for his combinations of text and photographs.

See his memoirs Will's Boy (1981), Solo (1983), and A Cloak of Light (1985). See studies by L. Howard (1968) and G. B. Crump (1978).

Wright Marion Morris (born January 6, 1910 in Central City, Nebraska; died April 25, 1998) was an award-winning American novelist, photographer, and essayist. He is known for his portrayals of the people and artifacts of the Great Plains in words and pictures, as well as for experimenting with narrative forms.

Early Family Life

His mother, Grace Osborn Morris, died six days after he was born. His father, William Henry Morris, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. After Grace's death, Wright was cared for by a nanny, until his father made a trip to Omaha and returned with a young wife, Gertrude. In Will's Boy, Morris states, "Gertrude was closer to my age than to my father's". Gertrude hated small-town life, but got along famously with Wright, as they shared many of the same childish tastes (both loved games, movies, and ice cream). In 1919, the family moved to Omaha, where they resided until 1924.

During that interlude, Morris spent 2 summers on his uncle's farm near Norfolk, Nebraska. Photographs of the farm, as well as the real-life characters of Uncle Harry and Aunt Clara, appear in Morris's books.


During 1940-1941, Morris toured the U.S. taking photographs that he would present in The Inhabitants (1946). He dubbed the genre, a juxtaposition of photographs with fictional text, "photo-text". The second photo-text, The Home Place (1948), depicted Morris's uncle's farm in words and photos. This was followed by The World in the Attic (1949), a novel about a transplanted Nebraskan leading an Eastern, citified life, who attempts to recapture the past by visiting his childhood town and his relatives' Nebraska farm. At this point, his publisher having observed that there was no market for photo-texts, Morris cut all photos from The World in the Attic. In 1968, he resurrected the photo-text form with God's Country and My People.

In the 1950s and 60's, Morris wrote several major novels, including The Field of Vision (1956), which won the National Book Award, and its sequel Ceremony in Lone Tree (1960), as well as Love Among the Cannibals (1957), a cynical and humorous tale of two Hollywood songwriters who travel to Mexico with recently acquired girlfriends. From 1963 to 1975, Morris was an English professor at San Francisco State College. In 1980, Plains Song: For Female Voices, a novel examining the lives of three generations of Nebraskan women, garnered Morris his second National Book Award. In this book, the females of the Atkins family display varying levels of acceptance to life in the Great Plains, ranging from extreme passivity to active escape (by way of traveling East). Morris published his memoirs in three volumes, the first Will's Boy in 1981, followed by Solo and A Cloak of Light.

In 1992, Morris oversaw a retrospective exhibit of his photographic work, "Origin of a Species" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 1995, he embarked on a project referred to as "the digitized Morris", in which the photos from his photo-texts would be combined with his voice narrating the text on CD-ROM. The project was not produced, although the voice recordings were taped and a pilot was created.

Selected works

Awards and Honors

In addition to the National Book Awards for The Field of Vision and Plains Song, Morris received numerous other honors. He was granted Guggenheim Fellowships in 1942, 1946, and 1954. In 1975, he won the Mari Sandoz Award recognizing "significant, enduring contribution to the Nebraska book world". In 1979, he received the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1981, he won the Los Angeles Times' Book Prize Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. In 1982, a jury of Modern Language Association members selected him for the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in literature. In 1986, he was honored with a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


The full archive of Wright Morris photographs is located at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which also manages the copyright of these photographs.

The Lincoln City Libraries of Lincoln, NE, houses some Morris correspondence and taped interviews in The Gale E. Christianson Collection of Eiseley Research Materials and The Wright Morris-Victor Musselman Correspondence collection.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries houses a collection of Wright Morris papers, including material donated by Josephine Morris (1927-2002), widow of Wright Morris.


Further reading

  • Howard, Leon (1968). Wright Morris. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Morris, Wright (1991). "The Art of Fiction No. 125". The Paris Review 120 (Fall):

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