Editor. Ravenel was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on August 13, 1938, the daughter of Elias Prioleau and Harriet Steedman. She was reared in Charleston and Camden. On May 25, 1968, she married neurobiologist Dale Purves, and they have two children. Ravenel holds a B.A. from Hollins College (1960). She began her publishing career in Houghton Mifflin’s trade department as a secretary but soon moved into an editorial position. She worked at Houghton Mifflin’s Boston offices from 1961 to 1971, and during that time she edited the work of Pat Conroy, Willie Morris, Anne Sexton, C. K. Williams, and Jonathan Kozol.
In 1977 Ravenel was asked to serve as series editor of The Best American Short Stories. She edited thirteen volumes of the anthology (1978–90) as well as the retrospective Best American Short Stories of the Eighties (1990). Ravenel was a lecturer in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis from 1983 to 1985. She has been a juror and panelist for numerous organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the DeWitt and Lila Wallace Literary Marketing Grants, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. In 1990 Ravenel was the recipient of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Distinguished Achievement Award.
It is her work at Algonquin Books, however, for which Ravenel is renowned in American letters. In 1982 she and her former teacher Louis Rubin established Algonquin in Chapel Hill. Her first position there was senior editor and member of the board of directors; through the years she progressed to editorial director and vice president. During her tenure at Algonquin, Ravenel brought attention to writers such as Larry Brown, Julia Alvarez, Jill McCorkle, A. J. Verdelle, Lewis Nordan, Clyde Edgerton, Robert Morgan, Tony Earley, and Lee Smith.
In January 2001 Ravenel stepped down as Algonquin’s editorial director to select books for her own imprint, Shannon Ravenel Books with Algonquin, which is now a division of Workman Publishing. Her work continues on the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best series, which began in 1986. These yearly volumes feature some twenty works of short fiction chosen each year from hundreds of southern stories published in literary publications as well as national magazines and provide exposure both to emerging writers and often to emerging literary journals. When asked what she considers to be her chief contribution to southern letters, Ravenel replied, “Simply making certain that those writers who don’t have connections are given a way to become better known.”
Ravenel, Shannon. “‘I Want You to Think about Something:’ Louis D. Rubin Jr. and the Establishment of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.” Southern Review 38 (Autumn 2002): 704–11.
———. “The State of the Story.” Literary Review 35 (Summer 1992): 619–22.
——–. “The Thrill of Discovery.” Five Points (Spring 2004).