Michael Bishop launched a stellar writing career with award-winning science fiction, and he has since created a diverse galaxy of stories in genres as varied as fantasy and historical fiction, contemporary satire and Southern gothic. Bishop’s novels, short fiction and poetry display his intellectual curiosity, a strong moral compass, and a rich, witty imagination frequently steeped in the sights and sounds of his life in Georgia.
Michael Lawson Bishop was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Leo O. Bishop and the former Maxine Elaine Matison. His early childhood followed his father’s Air Force postings and, after his parents divorced, he lived with his mother in Kansas and Oklahoma. During summers, Bishop joined his father on various air bases, and then he stayed with him in Spain for his senior year of high school. After Bishop’s mother and stepfather moved to Georgia, he chose to attend college at the University of Georgia in Athens (B.A., English, 1967).
He wrote his master’s thesis (1968) at UGA on the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and in 1969, he married Jeri Ellis Whitaker of Columbus, Georgia. Bishop was an ROTC graduate, and as an Air Force officer, he taught English in Colorado Springs at the USAF Academy prep school. He then taught at the University of Georgia for two years, and in 1974, he and his family moved to Pine Mountain, Georgia, where he worked as a substitute teacher, wrote occasional articles for The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, and devoted himself to a writing career.
In 1970 Bishop began selling short fiction and poetry to science fiction and fantasy magazines, and then gradually began publishing novellas and novels. Bishop’s first long-form book, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, appeared in 1975. By then, his writing was routinely being honored with award nominations from his fellow science fiction and fantasy writers. In 1981, he won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s coveted Nebula Award for best novelette ("The Quickening"), and the next year he won the Nebula for best novel, for No Enemy But Time. Soon Bishop’s talent was being acknowledged beyond the confines of science fiction and fantasy categories, and his story “Dogs’ Lives” was included in the Best American Short Stories anthology for 1985.
Bishop sold his first professionally published story, ("Piñon Fall") to Galaxy Science Fiction while still in the Air Force. He has since published more than a dozen novels of which he is the sole author, as well as three he has co-written with others, and he has published two books of poetry. He has also published more than 140 shorter fictional pieces compiled in several collections, as well as numerous nonfiction essays and critical reviews.
Having called Georgia home for nearly five decades, Bishop often manages to weave the state’s landscape and its people into the imagined worlds of his fiction, both realistic and fantastic. Georgia’s capital, Atlanta, appears on various occasions in Bishop’s body of work. "If a Flower Could Eclipse" (1970), his second published story, became the first of several stories he set in the “Urban Nucleus of Atlanta,” a domed dystopian metropolis that reappears in his novels A Little Knowledge (1977) and Catacomb Years (1979).
In Bishop’s novel Unicorn Mountain (1988), a central character is a gay man from Atlanta’s corporate advertising world who is coping with AIDS; while in Count Geiger's Blues (1992), Bishop has imagined a comic superhero from the Atlanta-like capital of the imaginary southern state of Oconee. Bishop recently published his first juvenile novel, Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls (2016), featuring a “Cobb Creek” little leaguer’s subterranean adventure beneath a store where mysterious display TVs predict his career as an Atlanta Brave home-run hitter of the future.
Bishop’s characters are often found living in or passing through fictional Georgia small towns. These might resemble Athens, the northeast Georgia college town where Bishop studied and taught, or Columbus, where he courted his wife-to-be, or Pine Mountain, the west Georgia hamlet where they settled and raised a family.
In Bishop’s 1984 novel Who Made Stevie Crye? (A Novel of the American South) a journalist battles a demonic typewriter in a fictional west Georgia town. In Ancient of Days (1985), Bishop ponders humanity in the tale of a prehistoric man who emerges from a Georgia pecan orchard into modern life, racial and cultural prejudice included. In Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas (1987) Bishop resurrects the dead sci-fi novelist in small-town Georgia during a fourth term of imperial president Richard Nixon. Both Bishop’s 1976 novella "The Samurai and the Willows" and 1980 short story "The Yukio Mishima Cultural Association of Kudzu Valley, Georgia" demonstrate the author’s talent for deftly combining inspirations, mixing Georgia settings with the culture of Japan (where Bishop the military brat attended kindergarten).
The critically acclaimed 1995 novel Brittle Innings, one of four Bishop tales to win an annual Locus award for sci-fi/fantasy, tells the story of a seventeen-year-old shortstop and a World-War-II era “Chattahoochee Valley League” baseball team with whose roster includes Frankenstein’s monster in the lineup. USA Today’s review called Brittle Innings “One of the best baseball novels this country has ever produced.”
Most of Bishop’s mainstream Georgia stories are gathered in his 2017 Other Arms Reach Out to Me. The collection begins with an homage to Georgia writer Flannery O’Connor, “The Road Leads Back,” a story selected for the 2003 regional anthology After O'Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia. The collection richly evokes “real” Georgia (the Okefenokee Swamp, for instance), and several of the tales take place in “Mountboro,” an imaginary version of Bishop’s Pine Mountain home. The collection ends with “Rattlesnakes and Men,” a satire that takes aim at Kennesaw, Georgia’s controversial gun-ownership law and at American gun culture in general--an issue in which Bishop owns a tragic, personal stake. His son, Jamie Bishop, was one of the murder victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
In an introduction to Bishop’s Georgia story collection, The New Georgia Encyclopedia literature editor Hugh Ruppersburg writes, “These stories are steeped in the Southern landscape, culture, and character but I am hesitant to describe them as ‘regional’.… What most stands out for me in these stories is their emphasis on human individuals and dilemmas: children chafing against parents, parents distraught over lost children, teenage love, desire, and marriage, old men in nursing homes, grief and depression, death. These are the topics and themes of the world’s great literature.”
In 2001 Bishop was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from LaGrange College, where he taught from 1996-2012 as writer-in-residence.
In addition to the many professional recognitions his fiction has received, Bishop won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award for best poem in 1979. His novel Brittle Innings has been optioned for motion picture production, and his works have been translated into over a dozen languages.
--Photo of Michael Bishop from an original photo by Richard Man.
The following selection of books by Michael Bishop are held by the UGA Special Collections Libraries. Not a comprehensive list. If a particular book/story does not appear here, please inquire at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library for assistance.
A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire. New York: Ballantine Books 1975.
And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
A Little Knowledge. New York: Berkley / Putnam, 1977.
Beneath the Shattered Moons. New York: Daw Books, 1976.
Catacomb Years. New York: Berkley/Putnam, 1979.
Transfigurations. New York: Berkley/Putnam, 1979.
Stolen Faces. London: Sphere, 1979.
Eyes of Fire. New York: Pocket Books, 1980.
Under Heaven's Bridge. New York: Ace Books, 1981.
No Enemy but Time. New York: Timescape/Pocket Books, 1982.
Who Made Stevie Crye? : A Novel of the American South. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984.
Blooded on Arachne. New York: Pocket Books, 1982.
One Winter in Eden. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984.
Close Encounters with the Deity. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1986.
Ancient of Days. New York: Arbor House, 1985.
The Secret Ascension. (Alt. title: Philip K Dick Is Dead, Alas) New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1987.
Unicorn Mountain. New York: Arbor House/Morrow, 1988.
Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana. Eugene, OR: Axolotl, 1989.
Within the Walls of Tyre : A Screenplay. Surrey, UK: Kerosina, 1989.
Emphatically Not SF, Almost. Eugene, OR: Pulphouse, 1990.
Count Geiger's Blues. New York: T. Doherty, 1992.
Brittle Innings. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.
Jugadas decisivas. [Brittle innings. Spanish.] Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1996.
At the City Limits of Fate. Cambridge, MA: Edgewood Press, 1996.
Time Pieces. Cambridge, MA: Edgewood Press, 1998.
Would It Kill You to Smile (as Philip Lawson, with Paul Di Filippo). Atlanta: Longstreet, 1998.
Muskrat Courage (as Philip Lawson, with Paul Di Filippo). New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.
Blue Kansas Sky: Four Short Novels of memory, Magic, Surmise & Estrangement. Urbana, IL : Golden Gryphon Press, 2000.
Brighten to Incandescence: 17 Stories. Urbana, IL : Golden Gryphon Press, 2003.
A Reverie for Mister Ray: Reflections on Life, Death, and Speculative Fiction. Hornsea, UK: PS Publishing, 2005.
A Cross of Centuries: Twenty-five Imaginative Tales about the Christ. New York: Thunder's Mouth, 2007.
Passing for Human (with Steven Utley). Hornsea, UK: PS Pub., 2009.
The Door Gunner and Other Perilous Flights of Fancy: A Michael Bishop Retrospective. Burton, MI : Subterranean Press, 2011.
Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls. Bonney Lake, WA: Fairwood Press/Kudzu Planet, 2016.
Other Arms Reach Out To Me: Georgia Stories. Bonney Lake, WA: Fairwood Press/Kudzu Planet, 2017.
The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales. Bonney Lake, WA: Fairwood Press/Kudzu Planet, 2018.
The University of Georgia Libraries Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds Michael Bishop's papers, which consist primarily of drafts, final versions, and galley proofs of his work to date. Included are short stories, novels, essays, speeches and notes. Also included are correspondence and published materials both by and about Bishop.