biografie: Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce [1842-1914]
Ambrose Bierce was the author of supernatural stories that have secured his place in both the weird tradition and in American letters at large. The stories in his two primary volumes, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (a.k.a., In the Midst of Life, 1892) and Can Such Things Be? (1893) often added a Western setting to Gothic fiction -- and, more importantly, developed the psychological aspects of horror first recognized by Poe.

He is also noted for his tales of the Civil War, which drew on his own experience as a Union cartographer and officer. His first job in journalism was as editor for the San Francisco News-Letter and California Advertiser (1868-72), writing the entries of the "Town Crier" which constituted the first real newspaper column. Perhaps we can say that his true love was satire in any form -- whether ghost story or fable, newspaper column or lyrical lambaste, fantasy or pseudo-lexicography.

In time, Bierce established himself a kind of literary dictator of the West Coast and was so respected and feared as a critic that his judgement could "make or break" an aspiring author's reputation. Well-known by his mere initials, A.G.B., his enemies and detractors called him "Almighty God Bierce." He was also nicknamed "Bitter Bierce" and his nihilistic motto was "Nothing matters." Apart from a few well-anthologized ghost stories (notably, "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"), Bierce is best remembered for his cynical but humorous Devil's Dictionary.

In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce disappeared into revolution-torn Mexico to fight alongside the bandit Pancho Villa. Although a popular theory is that Bierce argued with Villa over military strategy and was subsequently shot, he probably perished in the battle of Ojinaga on January 11, 1914.