Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1947, and grew up there and in New York City, attending second grade, however, at the Ursulinenklosterschule in Graz, Austria.  After graduating from Barnard College, she spent nearly three years abroad, in Ireland and in France.  While living in Paris she began to work as a translator for the film industry and for art galleries, before deciding to concentrate fully on the translation of literary texts.  Since then Davis has made a name for herself as the translator of works by Marcel Proust, Maurice Blanchot, Michel Butor, Pierre Jean Jouve, Michel Leiris and Gustave Flaubert, among others.  In 1992 she received the French-American Foundation Translation Award for her translation of ‘Scratches’ by the surrealist Leiris.

It was while living in the south of France that Davis wrote most of the short stories which appeared in her first collection, ‘The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories’, in 1976.  In 1986 her first substantial collection of stories, ‘Break It Down’ was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and was subsequently a finalist for the PEN/Hemmingway Foundation Award for Fiction. Her only novel to date, ‘The End of the Story’ (1995), was followed in 1997 by ‘Almost No Memory’, another collection of short stories.  The author is represented in many renowned literature journals and anthologies. Among other awards, Davis has received a Guggenheim Scholarship and the Lannan Literary Award.  She is married to the painter Alan Cote and lives with him and their son Theo in Port Ewen, New York.

The critic Edith Jarolim has remarked that Davis’ translating background is apparent in her prose.  Her characters are not only out of sync with the contemporary world, Jarolim claims, they are also estranged from their own language.  “They sound at times like intelligent foreigners who have learned to speak correctly but have not entirely mastered colloquialism.”  Davis herself characterizes her writing as a philosophical investigation of the relationship between imagination and reality, as well as an exploration of one’s perceptions of one’s identity and the subjective nature of the truth.  The question of communication is a constant topic; communication between characters, and communication between the author and the reader.  The narrator in her novel not only discusses various interpretations of words and actions relating to her lover, but also constantly reflects on her own work as a writer.  The author has stated that she is particularly interested in the diversity of forms of literary expression, that is, all the various possibilities for creating realities through language.

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