Biography of Ambose Bierce, famed author of “The Devil’s Dictionary” and numerous short stories including ghost stories.
Ambrose Bierce (1842 – ?) was an American author and journalist whose alternately cynical and macabre short stories about warfare, horror and death have had a huge impact on twentieth century American literature. His razor-sharp wit and gift for satire earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.” Although he was appreciated more for his journalism than for his fiction writing during his lifetime, many consider his short stories to have been years ahead of their time.
Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio on June 24, 1842. In 1861, at age 18, he enlisted in the Union Army and fought in several major battles of the Civil War, including Shiloh, Chickamauga and Kennesaw Mountain. His firsthand experiences with the carnage and brutality of war were burned into his memory for the rest of his life. Bierce drew from these experiences in writing his famous collection of war stories, including “Chickamauga” and “A Horseman in the Sky.”
But his most famous war story is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” an eerie, dreamlike tale of a captured Confederate soldier who imagines a daring escape from his imminent hanging. “Bridge” was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning short film in 1962, directed by Robert Enrico. This film would go on to be featured on the television program The Twilight Zone, where it gained further popularity.
After the war, Bierce moved to San Francisco, where he eventually became a renowned columnist, satirist and editor of several newspapers and magazines. Installments of his soon-to-be infamous book The Devil’s Dictionary (published in 1906), a collection of mordant and ironic definitions, appeared in one of these papers in the mid 1880s. In 1887, he became a writer for William Randolph Hearst’s paper The Examiner, a position he would hold for the next twenty years. It was here that some of his most original and impressive short stories appeared in print for the first time.
Besides war stories, Bierce also wrote tall tales and horror stories. In 1891, these stories were reprinted for the first time in England in the most famous collection of Bierce’s work, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (retitled In the Midst of Life in the States ). Other collections followed, including Can Such Things Be (1893) and The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1912), a massive, twelve volume set.
By the turn of the century, Bierce had grown restless with American life. After a stint as a journalist in Washington, D.C., he traveled to Mexico, supposedly to witness Pancho Villa’s revolution first hand. He was never heard from again.
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