Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer

Carol Sklenicka

Scribner, 2019

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

From the acclaimed author of Raymond Carver, the first full-scale popular biography of Alice Adams (1926-1999), whose fiction chronicled the sexual revolution and women’s lives from the 1950s to the 1990s—in real time. 

“Nobody writes better about falling in love than Alice Adams,” a New York Times critic said of the acclaimed author of over a hundred published stories and eleven novels that illuminate the American century. An admired short story artist and a bestselling novelist, Adams grew up in North Carolina during the Great Depression and World War II. After college at Radcliffe and a year in Paris, she moved to California. It took a decade to sell her first story, another decade to publish a novel. As women’s expectations of themselves and society’s expectations of women shifted, Adams wrote literary fiction that brought women’s lives to the forefront. With astute, lyrical prose she portrays vibrant characters both young and old who live on the edge of their emotions, absorbed by good or bad love affairs but determined to be independent. One of only four winners of the O. Henry Continuing Achievement Award, Adams wove her life into her fiction and used her fiction to understand the changing tides of the late twentieth century.

With the same meticulous research and vivid storytelling she brought to Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, Carol Sklenicka integrates the drama of Adams’s deeply felt, elegantly fierce life with a cascade of events—the civil rights and women’s movements, the Sixties counterculture, sexual freedom. This biographer’s revealing analyses of Adams’s stories and novels from Careless Love (1966) to Superior Women (1984) to The Last Lovely City (1999), and her extensive interviews with Adams’s family and friends, among them Mary Gaitskill, Anne Lamott, and Alison Lurie, give us the definitive story of a writer often dubbed “America’s Colette.” Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer captures not just a beloved woman’s life in full, but a crucial span of American history.


• Long listed for Plutarch Award Best Biogrphay of 2019 by the Biographers International Organization (BIO)

• Featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Holiday Gift Guide in 2019

The New York Time's first pick for "9 Books to Watch For in December"

Alice Adams is a perceptive, elegantly written biography that will broaden her renown and readership.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Carol Sklenicka is a lucid, scrupulous writer… [who] is prudent and appreciative in her assessment of Adams’s work.”
Blake Bailey, The New York Times Book Review
“Pervasive deep research informs this inspiring story of a writer who demonstrably earned such a sturdy, illuminating biography.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“After a long apprenticeship, hampered by supporting her husband’s own writing career before their 1958 divorce, Adams found an audience in the 1970s that was newly avid for her core concern: female-centric depictions of love and sex…Sklenicka’s well-researched biography…easily evokes the spirit of Adams’s life, times, and works.”
Publishers Weekly

“Those who love the novels and short stories, which trace women's lives beginning in 1930s America as they celebrate, grieve, and grow with the century, will be startled and delighted to see where the life and the fiction converge. [This] biography often reads like an Adams novel blessedly slowed down to allow the reader to soak for a moment in the atmospheres of a Chapel Hill childhood, Radcliffe College, Paris, and 1960s San Francisco.”

“In her empathetic, revealing and brisk new biography, Carol Sklenicka frames Adams’ life and work within themes of escape, redemption and persistence… [She] deftly deploys quoted bits to illustrate how the life and work are so intricately intertwined. The art of literary biography — Sklenicka previously explored Raymond Carver — thus resembles an enormous, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle… Adams’ footprint has faded.  Sklenicka’s portrait may well encourage new readers and justifiably revive her reputation.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Drawing on extensive original sources, Carol Sklenicka gives us the first full-length popular biography of brilliant novelist and short story writer Alice Adams. For decades, Adams rendered believably three-dimensional female characters in beautiful, cut-glass prose in venues like The New Yorker.”
Christian Science Monitor, Best Books of December