Bitter Bierce as a young man

 Ambrose Bierce
(1842-1914?)


Ambrose Bierce was the author of supernatural stories that have secured his place in both the weird tradition and in American letters at large. The stories in his two primary volumes, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (a.k.a., In the Midst of Life, 1892) and Can Such Things Be? (1893) often added a Western setting to Gothic fiction -- and, more importantly, developed the psychological aspects of horror first recognized by Poe.

He is also noted for his tales of the Civil War, which drew on his own experience as a Union cartographer and officer. His first job in journalism was as editor for the San Francisco News-Letter and California Advertiser (1868-72), writing the entries of the "Town Crier" which constituted the first real newspaper column. Perhaps we can say that his true love was satire in any form -- whether ghost story or fable, newspaper column or lyrical lambaste, fantasy or pseudo-lexicography.

In time, Bierce established himself a kind of literary dictator of the West Coast and was so respected and feared as a critic that his judgement could "make or break" an aspiring author's reputation. Well-known by his mere initials, A.G.B., his enemies and detractors called him "Almighty God Bierce." He was also nicknamed "Bitter Bierce" and his nihilistic motto was "Nothing matters." Apart from a few well-anthologized ghost stories (notably, "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"), Bierce is best remembered for his cynical but humorous Devil's Dictionary (see Publishing News, below).

In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce disappeared into revolution-torn Mexico to fight alongside the bandit Pancho Villa. Although a popular theory is that Bierce argued with Villa over military strategy and was subsequently shot, he probably perished in the battle of Ojinaga on January 11, 1914.


A New Bierce Stage Production and Essay Contest

The Lincoln Square Theatre in Chicago is staging a theatrical adaptation of a selection of Bierce's work, including several of his major short stories and excerpts from The Devil's Dictionary. Entitled "Tales and Times," it is scheduled to run from October 19 through November 22, 2009. Last year they staged Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

In conjunction with the production, the theatre is sponsoring an essay contest on the topic of Bierce’s famous disappearance, called "What Happened to Ambrose?" Can you solve the mystery in 300 words or less? The deadline is August 1, 2009 and full submission guidelines are available at the LST site: www.lincolnsquareartscenter.com.


Recent Publications

The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce: A Comprehensive Edition (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006-7) Published by University of Tennessee Press beginning on 9/15/2006, this is the first exhaustive collection of Bierce's short fiction -- in three beautifully produced volumes! Because it is arranged chronologically, the reader is able to watch the author develop through time, while listings by collection allow pieces to be read as Bierce himself intended. Dust jackets for the three volumes show the author in contemporary portraits.

Fans of editors S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz will not be surprised to learn that no stone has been left unturned in researching and comparing various texts -- including original periodical appearances, book selections, the Collected Works, and even the extremely few extant manuscripts. They were joined in the present immense undertaking by Lawrence I. Berkove, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, a noted Bierce scholar and author of a book-length study on Bierce's writings.

Ordering information at University of Tennessee Press: the volumes are available individually for $50 each (e.g., vol. 1 at Cloth ISBN: 1-57233-536-X), or all three for $129 (Cloth ISBN: 1-57233-475-4).

Graphic Classics: Ambrose Bierce (Mount Horeb, WI: Eureka Productions, June 2003) Features comic adaptations of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "An Imperfect Conflagration," "The Stranger," and seven other Bierce stories, selections from The Devil's Dictionary, and a collection of 29 illustrated "Fables." Also "The Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce," by Mort Castle and Dan Burr, and an introduction by S.T. Joshi. Artists include Rick Geary, Gahan Wilson, John Coulthart, Leslie Murray, Francesca Ghermandi, Dan O'Neill, Skip Williamson, Shary Flenniken, Lance Tooks, Anton Emdin and Johnny Ryan. ISBN#0-9712464-6-7. 144 pages, b&w w/color cover, $9.95. Order from the publisher at www.graphicclassics.com

A Much Misunderstood Man: Selected Letters of Ambrose Bierce , edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003). This collection, the first of Bierce's letters since 1922, promises to redraw our traditional picture of the cynical misanthropist by revealing a caring father, a literary critic who actually encouraged some writers, and a social critic whose barbed pen sought to point out the good as well as the bad in human affairs. Order from Ohio State University Press.

The Fall of the Republic and Other Political Satires by Ambrose Bierce, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000). The master uses fictional history from the future to criticize the America of his time (and ours). Order from UT Press.

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Finally, a definitive edition of Bierce's witty if cynical lexicon, which is likely to outlast his fiction in popular memory. For the first time, all of Bierce's demonic definitions are collected in one place -- including previously unpublished or uncollected entries but eliminating specious items erroneously attributed to Bierce by E. J. Hopkins -- together with bibliographical data on first appearances. Essential for all connoisseurs of Ambrose Bierce, Master of Satire! (List Price: $34.95; Hardcover - 400 pages.) Order from University of Georgia Press.

Ambrose Bierce, A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography, edited by S.T. Joshi & David Schultz (Knoxville: University of Tennessee [my alma mater!], 1998).  Combining biographical essays with selections from his newspaper articles and letters, Joshi and Schultz have composed an "autobiography" of the Master of the Macabre which should prove critical in any attempt to get closer to the "real" Bierce -- which he so carefully guarded from his reading public. Order from UT Press.


Still Available!

Ambrosia:
The 25th Anniversary Edition

Reprinting a fanzine dedicated to Ambrose Bierce and kindred spirits.
Only a few copies of this collectible item remain! 


Ambrose Bierce: Master of the Macabre
A biography and cursory review of his writings by Alan Gullette.

Homages in Verse
Two poems honoring Bierce, by John Bredon (Steve Eng) and
Walter Shedlofsky, reprinted from the defunct fanzine Ambrosia.

A George Sterling Page
A brief biography, texts, and online links for this
California Romantic poet and protégé of Bierce.


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This page maintained by Alan Gullette, Oakland, California.
Email: alang@alangullette.com
Last updated: March 30, 2011


Selected Authors of Supernatural Horror

Ambrose Bierce H.P. Lovecraft Edgar A. Poe
Algernon Blackwood Arthur Machen M. P. Shiel
Lord Dunsany Fitz-James O'Brien Clark Ashton Smith
William Hope Hodgson Other Links Photo Gallery