Michael Cunningham, UI Graduate 80MFA

Prize Work: The Hours; Pulitzer Prize: 1999 Fiction

Michael Cunningham (born 1952) is an American author.

Michael CunninghamAuthor Biography - By the time he finished Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs. Dalloway at the age of fifteen to impress a crush who tauntingly suggested he "try and be less stupid" and do so, Michael Cunningham knew that he was destined to become a writer. While his debut novel wouldn't come until decades later, he would win the Pulitzer for Fiction with his third -- fittingly, an homage to the very book that launched both his love of literature and his life's work.

After growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, Cunningham fled to the west coast to study literature at Stanford University, but later returned to the heartland, where he received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1980. A writer recognized early on for his promising talent, Cunningham was awarded several grants toward his work, including a Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa in 1982, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988.

In 1984, Cunningham's debut novel, Golden States, was published. While generally well-received by the critics, the book -- a narrative chronicling a few weeks in the life of a 12-year-old-boy -- is often dismissed by Cunningham. In an interview with Other Voices, he explains: "I'm so much more interested in some kind of grand ambitious failure than I am in someone's modest little success that achieves its modest little aims. I felt that I had written a book like that, and I wasn't happy about it. My publisher very generously allowed me to turn down a paperback offer and it has really gone away."

With a new decade came Cunningham's stirring novel, A Home at the End of the World, in 1990. The story of a heartbreakingly lopsided love triangle between two gay men and their mutual female friend, the novel was a groundbreaking take on the ‘90s phenomenon of the nontraditional family. While not exactly released with fanfare, the work drew impressive reviews that instantly recognized Cunningham's gift for using language to define his characters' voices and outline their motives. David Kaufman of The Nation noted Cunningham's "exquisite way with words and ...his uncanny felicity in conveying both his characters and their story," and remarked that "this is quite simply one of those rare novel imbued with graceful insights on every page."

The critical acclaim of A Home at the End of the World no doubt helped Cunningham win the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993 -- and two years later, his domestic epic Flesh and Blood was released. Chronicling the dysfunctional Stassos family from their suburban present back through to the parents' roots and looking toward the children's uncertain futures, the sprawling saga was praised for its complexity and heart. The New York Times Book Review noted that "Mr. Cunningham gets all the little things right.... Mr. Cunningham gets the big stuff right, too. For the heart of the story lies not in the nostalgic references but in the complex relationships between parents and children, between siblings, friends and lovers."

While the new decade ushered in his impressive debut, the close of the decade brought with it Cunningham's inarguable opus, The Hours (1998). A tribute to that seminal work that was the author's first inspiration -- Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway -- the book reworks the events and ideas of the classic and sets them alternately in 1980s Greenwich Village, 1940s Los Angeles, and Woolf's London. Of Cunningham's ambitious project, USA Today raved, "The Hours is that rare combination: a smashing literary tour-de-force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse." The Hours won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was adapted into a major motion picture starring the powerhouse trio of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman in December 2002.

To come down from the frenetic success of The Hours, Cunningham took on a quieter project, 2002's tribute/travelogue Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown. The first installment in Crown's new "Crown Journeys" series, the book is a loving tour through the eccentric little town at the tip of Cape Cod beloved by so many artists and authors, Cunningham included. A haven for literary legends from Eugene O'Neill to Norman Mailer, Cunningham is -- rightfully -- at home there.   (Amanda H. Reid)

Source: Barnes & Noble; Meet The Writers

Learn More About Cunningham's Prize Winning Work

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Book Description
In "The Hours," Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern American women who are trying to make rewarding lives for themselves in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family. Clarissa Vaughan is a book editor who lives in present-day Greenwich Village; when we meet her, she is buying flowers to display at a party for her friend Richard, an ailing poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown is a housewife in postwar California who is bringing up her only son and looking for her true life outside of her stifling marriage. With rare ease and assurance, Cunningham makes the two women's lives converge with Virginia Woolf's in an unexpected and heart-breaking way during the party for Richard.

Browse The Book
Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
(Taken from Amazon.com)

Editorial Reviews
View editorial reviews from Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post's Book World, Newsweek, Amazon.com and more.
Read the reviews >>

Listen to a Cunningham Read From The Hours

Listen to Cunningham read an excerpt from The Hours. To listen, click on the "Listen" button to open the NPR site in a new window. You will then be able to open and listen to the audio file.
(Real Audio, mp3 format)

An Interview with Michael Cunningham

In an interview from the fall of 2002, from the Barnes & Noble: Meet The Writers website, Michael Cunningham answers some questions about his critically-acclaimed debut novel A Home at the End of the World to his Pulitzer Prize-winning homage to Virginia Woolf, The Hours, Michael Cunningham has earned a reputation for using his particular way with words to bring out a story's soul.
Read the interview >>

Watch the Video interview with Cunningham (3:17) >>

Bibliography - Michael Cunningham

  • Specimen Days (2005) - Powells.com - Review A Day

  • A Home At the End Of the World has been adapted for the screen (the former in and the latter in 2004).

  • Land's End: A Walk through Provincetown (2002) (Non-fiction)

  • The Hours (1998) - In 1999 Cunningham's The Hours was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Book Award

  • Kindred (1995)

  • Flesh and Blood (1995)

  • A Home at the End of the World (1990)

  • White Angel (1989) - His short story White Angel was included in the 1989 Best American Short Stories.

  • Golden States (1984)

External links