JEAN STAFFORD was born on July 1,1915, the youngest of four children of a California walnut rancher. When she was five, her father moved the family to San Diego, and when his business dealings there failed to pan out, he moved the family again, this time to Boulder, Colorado. Stafford earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and received a fellowship for a year of study at the University of Heidelberg.
After returning from Germany, Stafford supported herself as a teacher. In the late 1930s Stafford met the young aspiring poet Robert Lowell, and after a stormy courtship—including a near-fatal car accident caused by Lowell's drunk driving that put Stafford in the hospital for several months—they were married in 1940. The accident, which necessitated extensive reconstructive surgery on Stafford's face, became the basis for her often-anthologized short story, " The Interior Castle," in which Pansy Vanneman becomes the mouthpiece for Stafford's rage at Lowell's negligence and destructiveness.
Stafford's marriage to Lowell ended in divorce; they were both heavy drinkers and both prone to bouts of depression. Despite being hospitalized for depression in 1946, Stafford managed to complete work on The Mountain Lion ( 1947), a bildungsroman that draws on her unhappy childhood and adolescence in Boulder.In the late 1940s and early '50s, Stafford's short stories began to appear regularly in The New Yorker and other magazines. Her Collected Stories ( 1970) won her a Pulitzer Prize. Her short fiction has been favorably compared with other American masters of the form, such as Hemingway, Wharton, Cather, James, and Twain.She herself praised the writing of Cather, Evelyn Scott (with whom she had a long epistolary friendship), and other women writers. Although she did not define herself as a feminist writer, Stafford's fiction is often quite critical of the roles available to women in contemporary society, particularly women who have artistic ambitions.
Her third novel, The Catherine Wheel ( 1952) was written while she lived in Connecticut with her second husband, a writer for Life magazine. That marriage also ended in divorce and in 1959, Stafford married for a third time. In the late 1950s, Stafford began to write nonfiction more and more regularly and almost entirely ceased to publish fiction. Some biographers suggest that nonfiction was more