Lott, Robert Bretley

October 8, 1958 –

The primary focus of Lott’s writing lies within the homes and hearts of middle-class America, average people leading average lives, seeking happiness and struggling against despair.

Author, educator. Bret Lott was born in Los Angeles, California, on October 8, 1958, the son of Wilman Sequoia Lott and Barbara Joan Holmes. He married Melanie Kai Swank on June 28, 1980, and they have two sons. Lott’s education includes a B.A. from California State University–Long Beach (1981) and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst (1984). He has held the position of writer-in-residence at the College of Charleston since 1986 and is a full professor at that institution. Lott is also a faculty member of the Vermont College M.F.A. program. Prior to his tenure at the College of Charleston, he taught English at the Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.

Publications by Lott include the novels The Man Who Owned Vermont (1987), A Stranger’s House (1988), Jewel (1991), Reed’s Beach (1993), The Hunt Club (1998), and The Song I Knew by Heart (2004). His short-story collections include A Dream of Old Leaves (1989), How To Get Home (1996), and An Evening on the Cusp of the Apocalypse (2005). Other publications include the memoir Fathers, Sons and Brothers (1997) and the essay collection Before We Get Started: On Writing (2004). Lott began publishing short stories in 1983, and his fiction and essays have appeared in dozens of literary journals and other publications, including The Prentice Hall Reader and The Best Essays from a Quarter-Century of the Pushcart Prize (2002).

The primary focus of Lott’s writing lies within the homes and hearts of middle-class America, average people leading average lives, seeking happiness and struggling against despair. Jewel, his most acclaimed novel, has been translated into half-a-dozen languages. As an Oprah Book Club selection, it was reissued in 1999, along with all his earlier publications. Lott was a student of James Baldwin, though Raymond Carver is his greatest literary influence. Other influences include John Gardner (who taught Carver) and Richard Ford.

Lott directed the Charleston Writers’ Conference from 1989 to 1994. Since 2001 he has edited the prestigious literary journal Crazyhorse, a publication of the College of Charleston. He has also influenced American letters as a judge for prominent literary competitions and as a panelist for the NEA Fellowships in Creative Writing. Lott has been a Bread Loaf Fellow in Fiction and a recipient of the South Carolina Arts Commission Fellowship in Literature. He won the PEN/NEA Syndicated Fiction Project Award in 1985, 1991, and 1993.

When asked what he considers his most significant contribution to South Carolina letters, Lott replied without hesitation, “My life as a teacher.” Though he was reared in California, Lott considers himself a southerner, noting that “My family is from East Texas and Mississippi–I grew up drinking sweet tea and eating fried pork chops. My sensibilities as a person are southern–I just don’t have the accent.”

Cornett, Sheryl. “A Conversation with Bret Lott.” Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion 37 (winter 2002–2003): 47–59.

Newell, C. E. “Lott, Bret.” In Contemporary Southern Writers. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Lott, Robert Bretley
  • Coverage October 8, 1958 –
  • Author
  • Keywords Author, educator, taught English at the Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, directed the Charleston Writers’ Conference, won the PEN/NEA Syndicated Fiction Project Award
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 6, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 9, 2022
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