Jane Bowles (1917-1973) wrote only one novel, one play, and seven short stories in her lifetime, but her impact on American literature is significant. Both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams cited her as influences, and her surprising, spiky surreal writing style anticipated a changing literary landscape.
Bowles was known for her wry, self-deprecatory sense of humor. “I’m Jewish, homosexual, alcoholic, a communist—and a cripple!” she once replied when asked why she remained on the literary fringe.
Bowles was born on February 22, 1917 to a middle class Jewish family in Manhattan. While in her teens, she developed tuberculosis of the knee—which would create a lifelong weakness. Her mother sent Jane to a sanitarium in Switzerland to heal. While lying in traction for several months, Jane read everything she could find, solidifying her love of literature and desire to be a writer.
In 1937, she married composer and writer Paul Bowles, a union that offered her emotional and critical support and the freedom to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere. Together, the Bowles travelled to Central America and Morocco—and the new locales fueled their creativity.
In 1943, Bowles published her novel, Two Serious Ladies, whose frank portrayal of a lesbian relationship and surreal structure baffled some critics, while others predicted a brilliant career for Bowles. Sadly, this career was cut short in 1957, when, at the age of 40, Bowles had a serious stroke. This, combined with many nervous breakdowns (some said she was manic depressive), made her unable to complete any more literary projects.