Gore Vidal is the author of twenty-four novels, five plays, many screenplays, more than two hundred essays, and the critically lauded memoir, Palimpsest. Vidal’s United States (Essays 1952-92) won the 1993 National Book Award.
Gore Vidal was born in 1925 at the United States Military Academy, West Point, where his father was the first aviation instructor. Vidal’s maternal roots are thoroughly political. As a boy, he lived with his grandfather, the legendary blind Senator T. P. Gore, to whom Vidal read. His father, Eugene Vidal, served as director of the Bureau of Air Commerce under Franklin D. Roosevelt. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Vidal enlisted at seventeen in the United States Army. At nineteen he became a warrant officer (j.g.) and first mate of the army ship F.S. 35, which carried supplies and passengers from Chernowski Bay to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. While on night watch in port, he wrote his first novel, Williwaw, published in 1946, the year he was mustered out.
Vidal’s early works include The City and the Pillar (1948), Messiah (1954), the short story collection A Thirsty Evil (1956), and two successful Broadway plays, Visit to a Small Planet (1957) and the prize-winning The Best Man (1960). Vidal also wrote a number of plays for television’s “golden age” (The Death of Billy the Kid) as well as Hollywood screenplays (Suddenly, Last Summer). In the sixties, three widely acclaimed novels established Vidal’s international reputation as a best-selling author: Julian (1964), a re-creation of the world of the apostate Roman emperor who attempted to restore paganism; Washington, D. C. (1967), the first in what was to become a multi-volume fictional “chronicle” of American history; and the classic Myra Breckinridge (1968), a comedy of sex change in a highly mythical Hollywood.
Myron (1974), a sequel to Myra Breckinridge, continued to mine the vein of fanciful, sometimes apocalyptic humor that informs Kalki (1978), Duluth (1983) and Live from Golgotha (1992), works described by Italo Calvino as “the hyper-novel or the novel elevated to the square or to the cube.” Vidal also continued to explore the ancient world in the wide-ranging Creation (1981). The Boston Globe noted, “He is our greatest living man of letters.”
Gabriel García Márquez praised “Gore Vidal’s magnificent series of historical novels or novelized histories” that deal with American life as viewed by one family from the Revolution to the present: Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and Washington, D.C. Vidal’s interest in politics has not been limited to commentary; he ran for Congress in New York in 1960, and in 1982 came in second in the California Democratic senatorial primary.
Vidal’s essays, both political and literary, have been collected in such volumes as Homage to Daniel Shays (1972), Matters of Fact and Fiction (1977), The Second American Revolution (1982), and At Home (1988). In 1993 his United States: Essays 1952-1992 won the National Book Award. Palimpsest, Vidal’s memoir of his first thirty-nine years, was published in 1995.