(b. 1951), short story writer, essayist, and educator.
John William Holman was born in Durham, North Carolina. He received his BA in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1973, his MA in English from North Carolina Central University in Durham in 1977, and his PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1983. He taught at several institutions, including St. Augustine's College, the University of South Florida, and North Carolina Central, before coming to Georgia State University where he is a professor of English teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in creative writing.
Holman's first book, Squabble and Other Stories (1990), is a collection of eleven short stories that originally appeared in such journals and magazines as the New Yorker, Crescent Review, and Mississippi Review. These stories are about African Americans in the New South who do not quite fit into mainstream society. Holman's own phrase, “distant weirdness” taken from his short story “Swoosh,” published in the fall 1992 issue of Appalachee Quarterly, accurately describes his stories and characters, seemingly ordinary yet surreal people whose dialogue and whose lives do not seem to connect. They have strange—though perfectly suited—names like Grim, Cola, and Joyless.
The major character in “Squabble,” Aaron, is a retrenched geography professor who gets a job tending bar at a dive called the Bellaire in his neohick hometown. The star attraction at the bar is Dog, a man with half a face. There is the story of Todd in “Pimp,” who is an ex-pimp, bouncer, and bodyguard who once faked his own hanging as a Halloween joke. When he returns home for a visit, he thanks his neighborhood friend for writing him while he was away and explains to her that he did not respond because he “didn’t know how to talk like [he] still lived here.” In “The Story of Art History,” two people dance around on red lingerie that has been thrown on the floor. Monroe, who is getting married in “Monroe's Wedding,” asks Thompson, his boss of three weeks, to be his best man: “It's you or some joker I can bribe.”
Holman has a deft ear for dialogue. He exercises economy in his use of words, with his predominantly short sentences. He writes in the style of Frederick Barthelme, under whom he studied at Southern Mississippi, and Raymond Carver. He uses rich, colorful, vivid, and very descriptive language. In the story “I and I,” drug dealers making a stop in a small Mississippi town stay in an unfurnished house where “Every room is a different color—carpets purple, pink, blue, green. Matching drapes shaped like suffocation hang in the windows. They have funeral parlor folds, garish colors of Dracula lips.”
In 1991 Holman received the Whiting Writer's Award, a prestigious annual literary prize given to ten American writers of promise. His most recent fiction, Luminous Mysteries (1998), is a series of interlinking stories. Like Jean Toomer's Cane, it defies easy categorization, but most agree that despite the independence of its thirteen chapters, it may be considered a novel since it tells a fairly coherent story of the lives of two orphans, Grim Power and Rita, who grow up struggling with physical and mental adversities. The Georgia Center for the Book included Luminous Mysteries on its 2010 list. “25 Books All Georgians Should Read.”