Ellen Gilchrist, a Southern writer with a sharp, sometimes indulgent eye for her region’s foibles and eccentricities, died on Jan. 30 at her home in Ocean Springs, Miss. She was 88.
Her son Pierre Gautier Walker III confirmed the death. He said Ms. Gilchrist had breast cancer.
Ms. Gilchrist, who published some 26 books — novels, collections of short stories, poetry and memoirs — was known for her sharp, lightly ironic dissections of the class from which she came, the Southern upper bourgeoisie. She had spent part of her childhood on a family plantation in the Mississippi Delta — she was born in the principal city at its edge, Vicksburg — and her fiction was populated by the gentry that came from that land, in both its urban and rural incarnations.
She won the National Book Award in 1984 for her story collection “Victory Over Japan.” But it was her first collection, “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams” (1981), which depicted in large part the fissures and pathologies of the New Orleans upper class, that was in some ways most characteristic. She considered it her best work.
She had already lived in New Orleans for 13 years when that book was published and had “been visiting there all my life,” she said in an interview at the University of Arkansas in 2010. She knew the city’s upper social strata intimately, and she rendered it with a precision that still rings true more than 40 years later.
Many of the character types that populated her later fiction were already present in that first collection: unhappy affluent couples living in big houses, housewives who played tennis and drank too much, rebellious overindulged children and teenagers, and, at the edges, a shadowy world of lightly described Black people in subordinate roles. Mr. Walker, her son, described the book in a phone interview as “more of a series of factual essays with the names changed.”
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