Ellen Gilchrist, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, had spent six years devoted to the craft of poetry when she began writing short stories. She published her first collection of poetry, “The Land Surveyor’s Daughter,” in 1979. In “The Writing Life,” she recalls learning “how to polish and edit poetry until it shone like a mirror” and she applied that skill to short story writing. Gilchrist composed her first story, “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams,” under the guidance of her teacher Bill Harrison at the University of Arkansas where she would later teach. The rest of the stories would be written in New Orleans; Gilchrist describes that time in “The Writing Life”: “I was in one of the spells that artists all know can happen. I knew what I wanted to write about and I just sat down and wrote it.”
Gilchrist sent the stories to Harrison one by one for feedback. Besides writing suggestions, he offered up his literary agent in New York. While many writers would have jumped at the chance, Gilchrist “didn’t want any strangers in New York judging [her] work” and took an offer from the University of Arkansas Press in 1981. The small press was looking for a lead fiction writer and Gilchrist was the perfect fit, but no one could have predicted that her first collection of short stories, titled “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams,” would sell 10,000 copies in the first week and would be reprinted seven times.
“In the Land of Dreamy Dreams” launched Ellen Gilchrist’s literary career and soon she was ready to accept a contract from Little Brown. First editions of “Dreamy Dreams” are difficult to come by but for collectors this debut work featuring the artwork of Ginny Stanford is prized.
Original to the Clarion-Ledger.
See more Ellen Gilchrist first editions here.