Queer Places:
706 Coleman Ave, Fairmont, WV 26554
Phillips Exeter Academy, 20 Main St, Exeter, NH 03833
Yale University (Ivy League), 38 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520

John William Knowles (September 16, 1926 – November 29, 2001) was an American novelist best known for A Separate Peace (1959).

While not blatantly a gay novel, any young gay man who read A Separate Peace by John Knowles in school knows its power. Knowles was a gay man and infused his writing with the pathos and desire that only gay people can know. This was the first gay romantic relationship I had ever read about, and the fact that teachers don´t comment on the underlying love affair when teaching is a true careless disservice to the book and gay youth. --Eric Arvin

Back in the day, everyone else might have been reading “A Separate Peace” in school, and discovering that they had questions about relationships that seemed to blur the lines between friendship and something more between two men or two women. --Z.A. Maxfield

John William Knowles was born on September 17, 1926,[1] in New York,[2] the son of James M. Knowles, a purchasing agent from Lowell, Massachusetts, and Mary Beatrice Shea Knowles from Concord, New Hampshire. His father was a coal company executive, which earned an income that afforded the family a comfortable living.[3][4] As a youth, Knowles would remark that he could write just as well as the stories from The Saturday Evening Post.[5] Knowles attended St. Peter's High School in Fairmont from 1938 to 1940, before he continued at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, and graduated in 1945. Following his time at Phillips Exeter, Knowles spent eight months serving in the US Army Air Forces at the end of World War II. Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949. At Yale, Knowles contributed stories to campus humor magazine The Yale Record[6] and served on the board of the Yale Daily News during his sophomore, junior, and senior years, notably as editorial secretary during his senior year. He was a record-holding varsity swimmer during his sophomore year. Early in Knowles's career, he wrote for the Hartford Courant and was assistant editor for Holiday magazine. With encouragement from Thornton Wilder, he concurrently began writing novels.[7]

A Separate Peace was first published in London by Secker and Warburg in 1959. Published in New York in 1960 by Macmillan, it is his most celebrated work. The novel is based upon Knowles's experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy. The Devon School, the book's setting, is a thinly-veiled fictionalization of Exeter, with both campus and town easily recognizable. Although the plot is not autobiographical, elements of the novel stem from personal experience, including Knowles's membership in a secret society and his sustaining of a foot injury while he jumped from a tree during society exercises. In his essay "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote, "The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, athleticism, and loyalty."[8] The secondary character Finny (Phineas) is the friend of the main character Gene. Knowles has stated that he modeled Finny on David Hackett from Milton Academy, whom he met when both attended a summer session at Phillips Exeter Academy. Hackett was a friend of Robert F. Kennedy under whom he later served in the US Justice Department. A student, Phineas Sprague, lived in the same dormitory as Knowles during the summer session of 1943 and may have inspired the character's name. In his memoir Palimpsest, Gore Vidal acknowledged that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter Academy with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal stated that Knowles told him that the character Brinker was based on him. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."[9]

Knowles died on November 29, 2001, near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.[1]

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