the short story project

Breece D’J Pancake

Breece D’J Pancake

Breece D’J Pancake was an American author. He was born in 1952 in West Virginia. Pancake died in the age of 26, apparently of suicide, publishing only six short stories, mostly in Atlantic magazine. His first and only collected stories were published after his death in 1983, and won great acclaim. Pancake’s style and power have been compared to such twentieth-century literary giants as William Faulkner, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, and Samuel Beckett, and it is considered today a masterpiece of American short fiction. Pancake grew up in Milton, a small town in Cabell County. He completed a B.A. in English in Marshall University in 1974 and spent the next two years as an English instructor at a Military Academy. He left teaching in 1976 to enroll in the MA program at the University of Virginia. There Pancake began to write fiction. His first published story, Trilobites, appeared in The Atlantic in 1977. This event would bestow on him the unusual middle initials D’J, a miss-punctuation by the Atlantic editors of the initials for “Dexter” (his middle name), and “John” (the name he adopted after his conversion to Catholicism in his mid-twenties). Pancake chose to adopt the misprint and used it afterwards on all his published works. Breece D’J Pancake died on the night of April 8, 1979, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His death was officially judged a suicide, though some family members and childhood friends believe his death was a tragic accident. All those who read his work believed he was on the cusp of a brilliant career, full of promise and potential. His collected stories were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named an American Library Association Notable Book for 1983. In a letter to author John Casey, who was Pancake’s friend and professor in university, Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I’ve ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know.”


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