Novelist. Steadman was born in Statesboro, Georgia, on July 2, 1930, the son of Mark Sidney Steadman, Sr., an engineer with the highway department, and Marie Hopkins. The family lived in Decatur from 1940 until 1947. After his father died, Steadman moved with his family to Savannah, where they had kin. He attended Armstrong Junior College (A.A., 1949) and Emory University (B.A. in English, 1951). He married Joan Anderson, a school librarian, on March 29, 1952. They have three sons: Clayton, Todd, and Wade.
Steadman served in the U.S. Navy as a naval air cadet from 1951 to 1953. From June 1953 he worked as a copywriter for the publishing company W. R. C. Smith in Atlanta. He then went back to school, at Florida State University (M.A. in English, 1956). In July 1957 he took a job as an instructor at Clemson College, and since then his life has been centered in rural Pickens County. He received his Ph.D. from Florida State University in 1963 for a thesis on “Modern American Humor.” The subject reflects his permanent preoccupation.
Steadman taught humor and the American novel at Clemson for forty years. From 1980 until 1997 he was also writer in residence there. In 1968 he took a year’s leave of absence and accepted a position as visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, where he “found his voice” as a writer of fiction. By the time he left Cairo in June 1969 he had written six stories, and back in South Carolina he added seven more. They were published in 1971 as McAfee County: A Chronicle. It is set in an imaginary coastal county with a population of 6,254, fifty-eight percent of whom are African American. The county serves as a microcosm of a southern coastal city around 1960. With a Gothic sense of the comic and with much compassion, Steadman shows the grotesqueness in most lives. The book did well and was brought out in British, French, and German editions.
In 1976 A Lion’s Share was published. The novel is about the greatest southern high school football player of all time. But we see more than his triumph; we also witness the hero’s tragic failure in college, in his job, and in his marriage. As William Koon put it, Steadman “moves from comedy to genuine tragedy” in this novel. The book was not a public or critical success, and Steadman came to regret that he had not made the football part of it a separate novel. So fourteen years later he rewrote the funny and nostalgic part and published it as Bang-Up Season.
In 1983 Steadman was Fulbright lecturer at Leningrad State University and began work on his third novel, which became Angel Child (1987). It is a hilarious story about Langston James’s “misformative years,” but it is also about a grotesque-looking young southerner’s dreams and troubled longing. In 1991 Steadman wrote the entry on “Humor” in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Since leaving Clemson in 1997, he has been working on some “autobiographical fiction” and enjoying his retirement in Pickens County. He was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2002.
Boyd, Molly. “Rural Identity in the Southern Gothic Novels of Mark Steadman.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 27 (1994): 41–54.
Greiner, Donald J. “The Southern Fiction of Mark Steadman.” South Carolina Review 9 (November 1976): 5–11.
Koon, William. “Mark Steadman.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 6, American Novelists since World War II, Second Series, edited by James E. Kibler. Detroit: Gale, 1980.
Nuwer, Hank. “Mark Steadman’s Comedy of Ethos: An Interview.” Rendezvous: Journal of Arts and Letters 21 (1985): 92–99.