"Powers is among the greatest of living storytellers," said Frank O'Connor---and his modest production has been chiefly in the medium of the short story. He has contributed to the New Yorker and other magazines. Early in his career he wrote with anger at the plight of the African American as well as his own humiliation during the Depression at being forced to accept jobs as salesclerk and insurance sales agent. Later, although "neither a determined and conscious apologist for the church of Rome, nor blindly revolting against her" (SR), he found his subjects in the lives of priests and their parishes, which he has treated with gentle irony. The New Yorker called Prince of Darkness (1947), his first collection, "varied and fresh stories, written in delightfully firm and straightforward prose, in which Mr. Powers proves that he has few rivals at creating characters with more than superficial reality." The N.Y. Times said of Presence of Grace (1956), "J. F. Powers is a largely endowed, careful and important short-story writer, one of the best in America. Some of the nine stories in his new collection are distinguished by a high astringent hilarity, and some are filled with terror and pity." His first novel, Morte d'Urban (1962), won him the 1963 National Book Award. Its "prose is clear, lean, and supple: it is the work of a master who has achieved virtuosity. . . . The gaiety of his wit . . . is pertinent here because Morte d'Urban could have been bitter, even savage, in its ridicule of a certain kind of priest" (Commonweal).
Elizabeth Hardwick was born on July 27, 1916, in Lexington, Kentucky. Hardwick earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky, then she enrolled at Columbia University for additional study. Formerly an adjunct associate professor of English at Barnard College in New York, Hardwick has spent most of her adult life writing novels and essays. Hardwick's first novel, The Ghostly Lover, a story about a Kentucky family, was published in 1945. Since then, Hardwick has also written the novels The Simple Truth and Sleepless Nights. Her books of essays include A View of My Own, Sight-Readings: American Fiction, and Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature. Once nominated for the National Book Award, Seduction and Betrayal focuses on American writers, especially women writers, including Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Katherine Anne Porter, among others. The founder and advisory editor of the New York Review of Books, Hardwick's works have appeared in periodicals such as The New Yorker, The London Times Literary Supplement, and Harper's. She died at the age of 91 on December 2, 2007.