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.