James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson

Alumnus Faculty
1969 - 2016
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DeWitt Henry on James McPherson as a teacher

The Mill Restaurant

During my first term at Iowa in 1982, I enrolled in Jim McPherson’s fiction writing workshop. […]

After class ended at 6pm, all of us, except for Jim, would congregate at the Green Mill for dinner and drinks. Of course we would have loved for Jim to join us, but he seemed too brilliant for us, too much in pain to bear company. Just as class was drawing to a close during the fourth week of the term, Jim looked anxiously around the table and then asked me if I wanted to go get a drink with him. It was like being asked out on a date in front of fifteen other people. Of course I said yes.

Henry, DeWitt. “About James Alan McPherson.” Ploughshares at Emerson College. Emerson College in Boston, 2008. Web. 21 May 2016.


James McPherson Reading, 1981


James McPherson reads his short story “There was once a State Called Franklin,” to an audience at the University of Iowa Main Library in 1981.

The Virtual Writing University Archive, University of Iowa Libraries


James McPherson’s Love for Iowa City

Iowa City
123 S Linn St

…gradually [McPherson] began to connect with his Iowa City neighbors, with colleagues, and with students, and to see in Iowa City the basis of a spiritually centered democracy. “I have many friends here,” he wrote, “black and white and other … I am confident that here I am first of all a person, a human being. I have been accepted into the life of the community. I have open and free access to what in this community has meaning and value”.

DeWitt. “About James Alan McPherson.” Ploughshares at Emerson College. Emerson College in Boston, 2008. Web. 21 May 2016.


Lan Samantha Chang, James Alan McPherson, Chris Offutt, Marvin Bell, Robert Dana Fifteenth Anniversary reading

Prairie Lights Bookstore
15 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City Iowa

In this celebration of fifteen years of Live From Prairie Lights a line-up of prominent writers who have read from their work on “Live from Prairie Lights” including UI Writers’ Workshop alumna Mary Swander; Jane Hamilton; Dorothy Allison; Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Writers’ Workshop; Karen Joy Fowler; Colson Whitehead; Writers’ Workshop faculty members James Alan McPherson, James Galvin, Chris Offutt and Marvin Bell; Iowa Poet Laureate Robert Dana; David Hamilton, editor of the Iowa Review; Nonfiction Writing Program faculty member Patricia Foster; and Christopher Merrill, director of the UI International Writing Program will offer remarks or read selections to express their response to the “Live From Prairie Lights” 15th Anniversary. In addition, the audience was treated to clips from other authors who have visited the program throughout the years.

University of Iowa Libraries, Virtual Writing University archive


Original Vonnegut Painting: James McPherson’s Office

Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

An original Vonnegut painting hangs in Jim McPherson’s office at the Workshop; in the inscription, Vonnegut calls Iowa City his “spiritual home.”

Ladd, Andrew. “Literary Boroughs #21: Iowa City, IA.” Ploughshares at Emerson College. WordPress, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 May 2016.

James Alan McPherson taught as a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa. McPherson came to the University of Iowa as a student in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1969. He left in 1972, and would go on to teach at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Virginia before returning in 1979 to join the permanent faculty in the Writers Workshop.  In 1981, McPherson won the MacArthur Foundation Award, an award that recognizes and supports creative excellence. McPherson is also the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his short story collection, Elbow Room in 1978.


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