About the Author

Portrait of Ambrose Bierce

"Bitter Bierce" - American newspaper columnist, satirist, essayist, short-story writer, and novelist, who disappeared in the Mexicon Revolution. His end is still a mystery, but he is presumed to have died in the siege of Ojinega on 11 January 1914. Bierce is best-known for his numerous short stories collected in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891), which show the influence of Edgar Allan Poe.

Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio, as the tenth of thirteen children. While a teenager, Bierce lived on a farm in northern Indiana. After studying a year in a high school Birce became a printer's apprentice on The Northern Indianan, an antislavery paper. In 1861 he enlisted in the army and served as an officer until 1865 in the Union Army during the American Civil War - an experience that marked him for life. Bierce was a topographical officer on General William B. Hazen's staff and fought in several battles including the one that later provided the setting for 'Chickamauga' (1889), one of his best stories. It told about a little boy who sees the pitifully mangled survivors of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. After the war he settled in San Francisco. He found employment at the U.S. Sub-Treasury and began his journalistic career. Bierce contributed to a number of periodicals, among others the Overland Monthly and the Californian. In 1868 he became the editor of the News Letter. His first story, 'The Haunted Valley', appeared in 1871 in the Overland Monthly.

After his marriage to a wealthy miner's daughter, Bierce went to England, where he lived from 1872 to 1875 and wrote for the London magazines Figaro and Fun. During this time he published three volumes of sketches and epigrams, The Fiend's Delight (1872), Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California (1872), and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (1874). Tales of Soldiers and Civilians included Bierce's most celebrated tale, 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'. It featured a man who thinks he has escaped from an execution by hanging and returned to his wife at his plantation, but this is merely a drawn-out hallucination occuring in the split second prior to his death.

In 1877 Bierce worked as an associate editor of the San Francisco Argonaut. In the late 1870s he tried his luck in the mining business in the Dakota Teritory without success, and returned to San Francisco to work for the Wasp. Bierce joined later the San Francisco Examiner, which started his long career as a columnist and contributor to the Hearst publications. Between the years 1887 and 1906 Bierce wrote his famous column "The Prattler", which was a mixture of literary gossip, epigrams, and stories. His sardonic and cruel epigrams and aphorisms Bierce gathered in The Cynic's Word Book (1906). When he edited his twelve-volume Collected Works (1909-1912), however, he changed the title of this work to The Devil's Dictionary (1911). Although Bierce was called "wicked" and "devilish", behind the misanthropic facade was a disappointed idealist, who saw a saint as "a dead sinner revised and edited", and a marriage "a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two." Bierce's satires have much in common with the views of Swift and Voltaire, whom he had read. Bierce also confessed his debt to Stoicism, the especially praised Epictetus.

In 1896 Bierce moved to Washington, D.C., and contributed to the New York Journal, the San Francisco Examiner, and Cosmopolitan magazine. He divorced in 1904 and broke completely with his family. Gradually he lost touch with his friends. From 1900 to 1913 Bierce lived and worked mainly in Washington.

Late in 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce retired from writing and went to Mexico, to seek "the good, kind darkness." He vanished mysteriously during the Civil War. A fictional account of his last days is given in the novel The Old Gringo (1985) by Carlos Fuentes. The book was adapted into screen in 1989 and directed by Luis Punzo, starring Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck. - According to one explanation by Roy Morris (and others) Bierce did not go to Mexico at all but, instead, committed suicide in the Grand Canyon.

In South America Ambrose Bierce has influenced Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar. Japanese author Akutagawa Ryunosuke has also expressed indebtedness to Bierce.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.