Davenport considered himself a teacher foremost and his writings as “an extension of the classroom,” the creative component of a searching mind.
Writer, educator, illustrator. Davenport was born in Anderson on November 23, 1927, the son of Guy Mattison Davenport and Marie Fant. He showed a literary inclination from an early age. When he was twelve he created his own “newspaper,” The Franklin Street News, precociously reporting on “visits, birthdays, the births of kittens and puppies.” As a child, Davenport received private tutoring at Anderson College. He went on to study at Duke (B.A., 1948) and Oxford (B.Litt., 1950) on a Rhodes scholarship, where he wrote his thesis on James Joyce’s Ulysses. He served with the Army Airborne Corps (1950–1952) and began his teaching career at Washington University in St. Louis (1952–1955). In 1952, while conducting research for an article, he formed a lasting acquaintance with the modernist poet Ezra Pound. Subsequently he visited the writer during his imprisonment at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane. When Davenport completed his Ph.D. at Harvard (1961), Pound was the subject of his dissertation.
Davenport considered himself a teacher foremost and his writings as “an extension of the classroom,” the creative component of a searching mind. In 1963 he started teaching at the University of Kentucky, an institution that he has been associated with ever since. He was honored with the Alumni Distinguished Professor citation in 1983, retired in 1991, and became a professor emeritus in 1992.
Davenport was also a prolific writer in multiple genres and an illustrator for his own books and others. He authored more than twenty books, including two poetry collections. He also published book-length translations of classical texts by Sappho, Diogenes, and Heracleitus. Davenport’s articles appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Life, New York Times Book Review, and National Review, where he was a contributing editor (1962–1983). His interest in the history of ideas and his broad learning imbued his fiction with its rarefied texture: it was densely allusive, frequently experimental, and classically informed. He described his stories as “lessons in history.” Davenport’s stories require close reading, appropriate for a man who proclaimed that “[a]rt is always the replacing of indifference by attention.”
Representative volumes of Davenport’s short stories include Da Vinci’s Bicycle: Ten Stories (1979) and Twelve Stories (1997). The Geography of the Imagination (1981) and Every Force Evolves a Form (1987) collect sixty of Davenport’s highly regarded critical essays, touching on such provocative thinkers as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Charles Olson, and Samuel Beckett. An intellectual jack-of-all- trades, Davenport was a South Carolinian who became an internationally respected man of letters.
Crane, Joan, and Richard Noble. Guy Davenport: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1947–1955. Haverford, Pa.: Green Shade, 1996.
“Guy Davenport.” In Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Vol. 73. Detroit: Gale, 1981.
Reece, Erik Anderson. A Balance of Quinces: The Paintings and Drawings of Guy Davenport. New York: New Directions, 1996.