William March was born in Mobile, Ala., the second of eleven children. His father worked in the timber business, and the family moved frequently. March was interested in music, drama, and writing as a boy, but the family was unable to support him in his efforts. At age fourteen, March left school to work in the office of a lumber mill. At sixteen, he got a job in a law office in Mobile to earn money for school. He spent a year studying at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and a year at the University of Alabama studying law. He took a job as a legal clerk in New York City in 1916. In 1917, when the US entered World War I, March enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps. He served in France, was wounded, and earned three medals for bravery. Although he recovered physically, his psychological wounds from the experience remained with him.
March returned to Mobile after leaving the Marine Corps and began working for the Waterman Steamship Company. He rose quickly through the ranks and traveled frequently on Waterman Company business, including an extended stay in Europe. He eventually settled in New York City. He began writing seriously in 1928 as a form of self-therapy. His first short story, “The Holly Wreath,” was published in 1929. He chose Willam March as a pen name, since March was his mother’s maiden name. Company K, his first novel, was published in 1933. March continued to work and travel for Waterman until 1938, when he resigned to write full-time. He lived and wrote in New York until he suffered a mental breakdown in 1947. His friends took him back to Mobile to recover, and he divided his time between Mobile and New Orleans until 1952, when he settled permanently in New Orleans. He died there in 1954.
William March’s innovative works express social and cultural criticism and are unflinching portrayals of people’s behavior under difficult circumstances and of the consequences of their actions. Company K is an unsentimental presentation of trench warfare in World War I comparable to Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. March set some of his works in a fictional Alabama location he called Pearl County.
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Photo courtesy of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.