||Guy Mattison Davenport, Jr., was born in Anderson, South Carolina, on 23 November
1927, the second child of Guy M. Davenport, Sr., and Marie Fant Davenport. His
father worked as an agent for the Southern Railway.
||Davenport graduated from Anderson Boys' High School in 1945. One of his slightly
younger classmates was Clarence Brown, who was later known for translating Osip
Mandelstam into English and for many years taught comparative literature at
Princeton University. Davenport and Brown had in common a talent for art, and
remained friends and frequent correspondents until Davenport's death.
||After high school, Davenport attended Duke University, receiving an A.B. in English
and Classics in 1948. At Duke he was encouraged in his literary aspirations by
William Blackburn, a much-admired teacher of many successful writers. He also
received encouragement for his artistic talent from the English artist Claire
Leighton, from whom he took lessons.
||He spent the next two years at Merton College, Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship. There
he studied with J. R. R. Tolkien, among others. He received the degree of B.Litt.,
writing the first thesis on the work of James Joyce to be accepted by Oxford.
made two more lifelong friends at Oxford: the poet Christopher Middleton and the
anthropologist Rodney Needham.
||In 1950, Davenport returned to the U.S. and was drafted into the army. He spent two
years as a clerk typist with the Army Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina,
leaving active service with the rank of Corporal.
||After his discharge, Davenport accepted a position as instructor at Washington
University in St. Louis. While there he met Martha Emily Farrow, a student from
Orleans. They were married on 18 August 1956; the marriage lasted about two years
and ended in divorce.
||In 1955, Davenport left St. Louis and enrolled in the PhD program at Harvard, where
he studied with Harry Levin and worked as a teaching assistant for Archibald
MacLeish. He wrote his dissertation on "A Reading of
I-XXX of the Cantos of Ezra Pound"; it was published in 1983 by UMI
Research Press as Cities on Hills. At Harvard he was
introduced to visiting lecturer Hugh Kenner, who took an instant liking to the
younger man and offered help with his career. Kenner and Davenport remained friends
until Kenner's death in 2003, frequently corresponding and occasionally
||After receiving his doctorate in 1961, Davenport's next teaching position was at
Haverford College in Pennsylvania, at that time an all-male institution affiliated
with nearby Bryn Mawr. Davenport was liked by both faculty and students, but not
much by the administration, which refused to offer him a permanent appointment
||As a result, Davenport accepted a position at the University of Kentucky, where he
taught for the rest of his working life, from 1963 until 1992.
||Not long after moving to Lexington he made the acquaintance of Bonnie Jean Cox, who
worked for the local newspaper at the time. Davenport and Cox entered a romantic
relationship that lasted the rest of his life, although they never married and
not live together.
||Davenport had written fiction and poetry since his childhood. By the time he moved
Kentucky, he had published a number of well-regarded translations from ancient
Greek, a book on the scientist Louis Agassiz, and a book-length poem, Flowers and Leaves. In the 1960s he began writing
fiction for the first time since he abandoned his youthful unpublished novel Effie
Garner. His first published story, "The Aeroplanes at
Brescia," appeared in The Hudson Review in
1970. Tatlin!, the first collection of his stories,
was published in 1974 by Charles Scribner's Sons. He continued to write fiction,
often publishing first in little magazines or in limited editions produced by
presses and then collecting the stories into volumes produced by his two main
publishers, North Point Press and New Directions. He also continued to publish
translations, poetry, art criticism, book reviews, and essays until near the end
||In 1990, Davenport received a MacArthur Foundation Grant, which enabled him to retire
from teaching. He continued to write and paint at his home at 621 Sayre Avenue
Lexington, Kentucky, keeping up a huge correspondence until his death from lung
cancer on 4 January 2005.