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Photo: G. Paul Burnett/New York Times


American Academy Distinguished Visitor - Class of Fall 2002

William Styron was an American novelist and essayist. He served as a lieutenant in the Marines from 1944-1945, reaching Okinawa just as the war was coming to a close. Once he was discharged he completed his undergraduate studies at Duke University and in 1947, he headed for New York to work as an associate editor for Whittlesey House, then the trade division of McGraw-Hill.


Styron began to work on his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, in 1947. In 1967, Styron published The Confessions of Nat Turner, a highly controversial and commercially successful novel that entered the mind of the only significant rebel leader in the history of black slavery. The Confessions of Nat Turner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1968, and Styron received the Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970. In 1979, Styron published his fourth novel, Sophie’s Choice, a poignant and dramatic account of the Holocaust conveyed through the story of a Polish Catholic woman who lost her children in Auschwitz. Ever concerned with man’s capacity for both evil and self-redemption, Styron depicted the ecumenical character of Nazi crimes against humanity. Sophie’s Choice won the 1980 American Book Award and was made into the eponymous film. In 1990, Styron published Darkness Visible, a memoir chronicling the author’s struggles with depression. The memoir increased public understanding and decreased the stigmatization of depressive disorders.

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