Joe Ashby Porter

20th Century American Writer

Portrait of Joe Ashby PorterJoe Ashby Porter

Joe Ashby Porter

In 2004 after winning an Academy Award in Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Literature said of Joe Ashby Porter, “No writer of his gifted generation has shown greater daring or has earned higher praise.” Clearly a remarkable writer, Porter (1942– ) has written ten books and has served as an editor of nine others. He was born in Kentucky and received his bachelor’s from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the years Porter has received a Fulbright fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, two Pulitzer Prize nominations for The Kentucky Stories and Touch Wood, and many other awards. Under the pseudonym of Joseph A. Porter he publishes scholarly articles and books, mostly on Shakespeare. Porter’s short stories and fiction have appeared in numerous periodicals such as Harper’s and the Yale Review, and anthologies including the Best American Short Stories. He served as a writer-in-residence at Brown and at the Université François Rabelais in Tours, and is a Professor of English and Theater Studies at Duke University.

cover image of the book Eelgrass


Eelgrass, Joe Ashby Porter’s first novel, takes place on an unnamed island somewhere just offshore the Atlantic coast of our imaginations. The ingredients of this wonder-full story blend together as effortlessly as the cocoa and marijuana in the Alice B. Toklas brownies baked (repeatedly) by Daisy, owner of the old farmhouse that serves as a summer commune for herself and her “guests”: practical Annabel, guitar-playing Jimbo, puppylike Thuggy, and Carter, the golden boy. Add to the five young people: two beautiful, fay “pushers” who live in the woods and keep the whole island well supplied with a cornucopia of uppers, downers, hallucinogens, coke, and hash; one wiry widow of a sea captain, the oldest resident on the island, who saves inept sailors like Thuggy and Jimbo from themselves; one misanthropic musician who wants to steal Daisy’s farmhouse; one frantic capitalist, his wife and two little girls (who have a talent for stumbling in on adult activity); and one carnivorous were-creature who lives on the island, unknown to all the others. The result is a dreamy midsummer madness that is at once wistful and hilarious, suspenseful and touchingly innocent; for here, greed, ambition, violence, the confrontations of real life exist but have lost all power to harm. The narrative is simple, direct, lyrical; it produces a powerful nostalgia for what was hoped for in those days before the “greening of America” withered in the bud. Author Porter comments: “I began the novel in 1970 and very quickly it was clear to me that the book would be in part an envoi to the preceding decade. There are kinds and kinds of dreams. Eelgrass is meant to delight and be accessible, it is meant to be sunny and give comfort and hope to as many people as possible. It is meant to let them smile remembering it, like a vision of innocence.”

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