John Knowles Biography

John Knowles was born in 1926 in Fairmont, West Virginia. He left home at fifteen years old to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, an exclusive boarding school located in New Hampshire. After graduating from Exeter in 1945, he spent eight months as an Air Force cadet before enrolling at Yale University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1949.

Over the next seven years, Knowles earned his living as a journalist and freelance writer, traveling in Europe and publishing a number of short stories. He befriended the noted playwright Thornton Wilder, a fellow Yale alumnus, who encouraged him in his vocation as a writer. In 1957, Knowles landed a job as an associate editor at Holiday magazine. Two years later, he published his first novel, A Separate Peace, to overwhelmingly favorable reviews. The novel won the William Faulkner Foundation Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The commercial success of the book allowed him to devote himself to writing full-time. 

Knowles published eight other novels, including Peace Breaks Out, the companion volume to A Separate Peace, and a number of stories. None, however, garnered the acclaim or audience that A Separate Peace earned and continues to enjoy today. Knowles was a writer-in-residence at both Princeton University and the University of North Carolina, and continued to lecture until his death in 2001.

John Knowles Study Guides

A Separate Peace

Published 1959

John Knowles Quotes

There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream.

Nothing endures. Not a tree. Not love. Not even death by violence.

Everything has to evolve or else it perishes.

So the more things stay the same, the more they change after all.

John Knowles Novels

A Separate Peace

Published 1959

Morning in Antibes

Published 1962

Indian Summer

Published 1966

The Paragon

Published 1971

Spreading Fires

Published 1974

A Vein of Riches

Published 1978

Peace Breaks Out

Published 1981

A Stolen Past

Published 1983

The Private Life of Axie Reed

Published 1986

John Knowles Short Stories

A Turn with the Sun

Published 1953


Published 1968

John Knowles Nonfiction

Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad

Published 1964