Alison Lurie

Frederic J. Whiton Professor of American Literature Emerita


American writer and scholar Alison Lurie (1926-2020) was probably best known for her novels, which have often been described as social satire. Her first novel, Love and Friendship (1962), is set in the imaginary New England college town of Converse and describes an unexpected love affair. The Nowhere City (1965) takes place in Los Angeles, where Alison Lurie and her family lived from 1957 to 1961. Its characters include a film starlet, a psychiatrist, and other assorted local types. The War Between the Tates (1974) is set in Corinth University, which has been said to have some similarities to Cornell, and its main characters are a professor who becomes involved with a graduate student, and his distressed wife. Real People (1969) and Imaginary Friends (1967) also take place in upstate New York: the first in an artists' colony and the second in a small town where a group of eccentrics believe themselves to be in touch with flying saucers. Only Children (1979), the story of a disastrous weekend houseparty, is also set in rural New York state but in the 1930's. From 1970 to 2019, Alison Lurie spent part of her winters in Key West, Florida, which is the setting for much of The Truth About Lorin Jones (1989). She also visited Britain once a year. Foreign Affairs (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize, takes place in London and relates the adventures of two American academics abroad. The Truth About Lorin Jones (1989), follows the adventures of a biographer who is researching the life of a famous woman painter. It won the Prix Femina Etranger in France.

Lurie authored three collections of traditional folktales for children, and was co-editor of the 73-volume Garland Library of Children's Classics. She also published a collection of ghost stories, Women and Ghosts (1994), a book on the psychology of fashion, The Language of Clothes (1981), and a collection of essays on children's literature and folklore, Don't Tell the Grownups (1990).

Lurie taught literature, folklore, humor, and writing at Cornell University since 1969 and received the Frederic J. Whiton Professor of American Literature emerita. She received numerous honors including Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation grants, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Fiction, and a D. Litt. from Oxford University.

Research Focus

  • The Novel
  • Folklore
  • Children’s Literature
  • Creative Writing