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Jon Manchip White

Jon Manchip White is a distinguished Welsh-American writer who has published over 30 books of fiction and non-fiction with major publishers [see Bibliography]. In 1997, Iris Audio Publications released two audio tapes of the author reading his short stories. Iris Press republished his memoir, The Journeying Boy (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992), in 1999.

Jon Manchip White traces his ancestry to seafaring stock—sailors and shipowners—around the Bristol Channel and, in particular, Cardiff on the coast of South Wales where he was born. For example, among his father’s ancestors was Rawlins White, owner of a fishing fleet, who was burned at the stake during the Marian persecution in 1555. Cardiff, around the turn of the century, was one of the most important industrial ports in Great Britain. His father, Gwilym Manchip White, was the only one of his family who did not go to sea. However, his father did make his living as part owner and managing director of the Taff Vale Shipping Company.

Around 1924, when Jon Manchip White was born, two events conspired to greatly effect his family’s fortune and influence his childhood. First, the Depression (or Slump, as it was known in Britain) had a severe effect on South Wales and the shipping industry. Gwilym Manchip White struggled to keep his business going and protect his employees. Second, when Jon was three or four, his father contracted tuberculosis, a disease that he suffered for ten years in hospitals and sanatoriums or confined to a bed at home. When Jon Manchip White was eight, at the height of his father’s illness, his parent decided to lessen the risk of infection by sending him to an English boarding school twenty miles north of London. Although he considered the school a prison that kept him from his family and the place of his childhood, he received a first rate education which helped prepare him for life.

During his school years, Jon Manchip White decided that the best way to reverse the decline of his family’s fortunes was to win a scholarship to a university. In 1941, Manchip White was awarded an Exhibition in English to St. Catharine’s College at Cambridge. He studied there from 1942 to 1943 until he came of age for military service in World War II. Following family tradition, he was automatically enrolled in the Naval Training Unit. During the war, he went to sea, taking part in the convoys that ferried troops and materials across the Atlantic. Towards the end of the war, he accepted the opportunity of joining the Welsh Guards, one of the five regiments of His Majesty’s Foot Guards. On VE day, he met his future wife, Valerie Leighton, a nurse during the war. Later, the Manchip Whites raised two daughters, Bronwen and Rhiannon¾ names that were taken from the Welsh epic, The Mabinogion.

After the war, John Manchip White resumed his study of English at Cambridge. He was already writing fiction and poetry, and he knew that he wanted to be a writer. After completing one course in English, he decided to broaden his horizons by changing from English to prehistoric archaeology and anthropology, studies that extended his range of interests and subject matter. In 1950, he graduated with honors in English, prehistoric archaeology and oriental languages (Egyptology), and he received a University Diploma in anthropology. Manchip White did so well at school, that he was offered a position with the Keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Department at the British Museum. To supplement his income as student, he had sold some scripts for radio plays to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1950, Manchip White moved to London and became story editor for the newly established BBC Television Service. During his time at the BBC, he read scripts, made adaptations, and wrote original dramas. From 1952 to 1956, Manchip White served Britain as a Senior Executive officer in the British Foreign Service. He continued to write poetry, novels during his time in public service, and he resigned his job to concentrate full time on his writing as an independent author. From 1956 to 1967 he worked as a screenwriter for movies, including a period employed by Samuel Bronston Productions in Paris and Madrid. During this time, he traveled widely around Europe and other parts of the world like South Africa. His travels helped to increase his knowledge and provided him the opportunity to research subjects and places for travel and non-fiction books.

In the mid-sixties, Jon Manchip White felt the time had arrived to change his circumstances¾ to shake up his routine. Ever the wanderer, he decided to go to the United States, a place he had admired since college when he wrote a dissertation on the Pueblo Indians. Around this time, he had met the critic and biographer, Mr. Cleanth Brooks, who had been in London as the Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy. Brooks suggested that Manchip White look for a position at an American university, and he wrote him a recommendation. Jon Manchip White accepted a job as a writer-in-residence at the University of Texas at El Paso in 1967. He enjoyed and excelled at teaching, and eventually he received a full professorship. Teaching also allowed him more time to focus of his main ambition of being a writer of books. The position at El Paso gave him the opportunity to explore the American Southwest and Mexico. As much as he loved Texas, in 1977, he was offered a position at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville as the Lindsay Young Professor of English, an offer too good to refuse. He was a founder of the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee. He has since grown to love East Tennessee with its beautiful forests and mountains.

Jon Manchip White has become an American citizen. He continues to live and write in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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