MacArthur Fellows Program

William Gaddis

Novelist | Class of 1982

New York, New York
60 at time of award
December 16, 1998

William Gaddis was a novelist who depicted the artist’s struggle to find meaning and creative expression against the prevailing theme of capitalist corruption.

His first novel, The Recognitions (1955), was greeted as gargantuan and complex, establishing his reputation as a “difficult” writer.  The novel features a large and rich cast of characters who search for authenticity in a counterfeit society.  Rife with allusions and references, the work’s multilayered narrative structure dramatizes the disorienting world in which Gaddis’s characters must make their way.  For JR (1975), a novel composed almost entirely of dialogue, Gaddis received the National Book Award for fiction.  He then wrote Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), followed by A Frolic of His Own (1994), for which he received his second National Book Award.  He was also a contributor to numerous publications, including the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Harper’s.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Gaddis had held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1966, 1974), the Rockefeller Foundation (1976), and the Guggenheim Foundation (1981).  He served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Bard College (1997).  In 1993 he received the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Literary Award. 

Gaddis was educated mainly in New England, where he studied at Harvard College (1945).

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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