web site last updated 22 June 2003

About John Hersey

Excerpted from The Publication of 'Hiroshima' in The New Yorker

John Hersey was born on June 17, 1914 in Tientsin, China to missionaries. He returned to the US with his parents when he was ten years old. Hersey attended Yale and then went on to graduate study at Cambridge. During World War II he was a journalist and covered the fighting in both Europe and Asia, writing articles for Time, Life, and The New Yorker.

In the winter of 1945-46, William Shawn, managing editor of The New Yorker, discussed with Hersey a story idea that would illustrate the effects of the atomic bomb that had been dropped in Hiroshima the summer before. Hersey began working on the story in May 1946. He spent three weeks in Japan doing interviews and research, then flew back to the U. S. in late June and continued working on the article, which was published in late August 1946.

After "Hiroshima" was published in The New Yorker, Hersey went on to publish several short fiction pieces and articles about other topics in The New Yorker and other publications. His next large-scale writing project, called the The Wall (1950), was a heavily researched historical novel about the Nazi destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. The novel was critically acclaimed and is considered to be the first American novel about the Holocaust.

Around this time, Hersey participated in several writer's organizations as well as committees formed to promote public education. He campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and serving as one of Stevenson's speechwriters. Hersey was named Master of Pierson College at Yale University where he became first a lecturer and then a professor. Hersey also continued writing. After The Wall came The Marmot Drive, A Single Pebble, The War Lover, The Child Buyer, White Lotus, and others.

In 1985 Hersey returned to Hiroshima to write a follow-up article, "Hiroshima: The Aftermath" which was published in The New Yorker on July 15, 1985, and was subsequently added to a newly revised edition of the book.

Hersey died on March 24, 1993 at his Key West home.

More about John Hersey

A short bio of John Hersey at the John Hersey High School web site.

Comprehensive Hersey obituary in Yale Alumni magazine.

Letters to the editor of the New York Review of Books, co-signed by Hersey.

Hersey won the Pulitizer Prize in 1945 for his novel "A Bell for Adano"

Hersey was accused of plagarism in 1988, according to an article in The New York Times. The matter had to do with an article he wrote for The New Yorker.

Other John Herseys!

John Hersey, son of John Hersey the writer, is an artist living in Millbrook NY.

Another John Hersey is a graphic artist and typeface designer, not related to the writer.

This John Hersey is a motivational speaker.

And Dr. John Hersey is a doctor of optometry in Maine.

Steve Rothman, Arlington Massachusetts. E-mail: steve@palmerrothman.com