Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  William Maxwell  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult; Young Adult; Children; Children;

Born: August 16, 1908 in Lincoln, Illinois

Died: July 31, 2000

-- William Maxwell on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Maxwell was born in Lincoln and moved to Chicago with his family after high school. He attended University of Illinois in Champaign and after graduate school he returned to the University of Illinois to spend two years on the English faculty.

Biographical and Professional Information

William Keepers Maxwell was an American novelist, short story writer and editor. He explored his Illinois childhood in a series of novels and short story collections, including Bright Center of Heaven (1934), They Came Like Swallows (1937), The Folded Leaf (1945) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980). Maxwell is sometimes called a "writer's writer", who has never had extraordinary commercial success but is highly respected by other writers for his craftsmanship and power. He also nurtured other developing writers as a longtime fiction editor for the New Yorker.William Maxwell, throughout a long residence in New York, has continued to explore his Illinois childhood in Lincoln and Chicago in a series of novels and short-story collections. He taught freshman compostion at the University of Illinois and later became an associate editor of the New Yorker magazine. He was the fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine for forty years (1936-1975).

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

William Maxwell: Early Novels and Stories
ISBN: 159853016X

Library of America. 2008

With his second book, They Came Like Swallows (1937), William Maxwell found his signature subject matter—the fragility of human happiness—as well as his voice, a quiet, cadenced Midwestern voice that John Updike has called one of the wisest and kindest in American fiction. Set against the background of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, this short novel presents the loving character of Elizabeth Morison, a devoted wife and mother, through the eyes of those whom she is fated to leave decades before her time.

Edmund Wilson described The Folded Leaf (1945) as “a quite unconventional study of adolescent relationships—between two boys, with a girl in the offing—in Chicago and in a Middle Western college: very much lived and very much seen.” He praised this “drama of the immature” for the compassion Maxwell brings to his male protagonists, whose intensely felt, unarticulated bond is beyond their inchoate ability to understand.

Time Will Darken It (1948) is a drama of the mature: a good man’s struggle to keep duty before desire and his family’s needs before his own. It paints a portrait of Draperville, Illinois, in 1912, a proud and isolated community governed by gossip, where an ambitious young woman must not overreach the limits society has placed on her sex, and an older, married gentleman must not encourage her should she dare.

Together with these major works, this Library of America edition of Maxwell’s early fiction collects his lighthearted first novel, Bright Center of Heaven (1934), out of print for nearly 70 years, and nine masterly short stories. It concludes with “The Writer as Illusionist” (1955), Maxwell’s fullest statement on the art of fiction as he practiced it.

is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

Time Will Darken It: A Novel (Nonpareil Book, 28)
ISBN: 0879234482

David R Godine. 1994

Nonpareil Book 28

They Came Like Swallows
ISBN: 067977257X

Vintage. 1997

To eight-year old Bunny Morison, his mother is an angelic comforter in whose absence nothing is real or alive. To his older brother, Robert, his mother is someone he must protect, especially since the deadly, influenza epidemic of 1918 is ravaging their small Midwestern town. To James Morison, his wife, Elizabeth, is the center of a life that would disintegrate all too suddenly were she to disappear.
Through the eyes of these characters, William Maxwell creates a sensitive portrait of an American family and of the complex woman who is its emotional pillar. Beautifully observed, deftly rendering the civilities and constraints of a vanished era, They Came Like Swallows measures the subterranean currents of love and need that run through all our lives. The result confirms Maxwell's reputation as one of the finest writers we have.

The Chateau
ISBN: 067976156X

Vintage. 1995

It is 1948 and a young American couple arrive in France for a holiday, full of anticipation and enthusiasm. But the countryside and people are war-battered, and their reception at the Chateau Beaumesnil is not all the open-hearted Americans could wish for.

All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories
ISBN: 0679761020

Vintage. 1995

From the American Book Award-winning author of Ancestors and Time Will Darken comes a masterful collection of stories, spanning more than 50 years--a tour of a world that engages readers entirely, and whose characters command the deepest loyalty and tenderness.


  • Name engraved on the frieze of the Illinois State Library alongside other great Illinois literary figures, 1990