Born in Statesboro, GA, in 1930, Mark Steadman was reared in Decatur, GA, joined Clemson University’s faculty in 1957, and remained a South Carolinian until his death in 2020. Steadman retired from Clemson in 1997 as Alumni Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence.
During the academic year 1968-69, Steadman taught at the American university in Cairo, Egypt, where he “found his voice” as a fiction writer (South Carolina A to Z). He returned to Clemson with six stories that became part of McAfee County, his first book, adding seven more back in Clemson. Published in 1971, the book creates a rich world within his fictional coastal county. Named Best First Novel of the Year by Britannica Books, McAfee County was beloved by readers and translated into multiple languages.
In 1976, A Lion’s Share, again set in coastal Georgia, was published. Its protagonist, known as the greatest high-school football player who ever lived, is revealed through both the glory of his athletic career and the tragedy of his later life. The novel did not sell well, partly, Steadman believed, because it was too tragic. He rewrote the high-school years of the story as a more upbeat novel–his fourth, Bang-up Season, published in 1990. Of his third novel, Angel Child (1987), Josephine Humphreys–fellow SC Academy of Authors inductee–writes, “Mark Steadman is onto something far beyond Southern humor–the troubled human soul–but along the way he is very, very funny.”
Steadman’s dissertation at Florida State University was titled Modern American Humor, revealing an interest that he never abandoned. Like Humphreys, Jan Nordby Gretland sees a special quality in the trademark Steadman humor: “With a Gothic sense of the comic and with much compassion, Steadman shows the grotesqueness in most lives.” In his obituary, Steadman’s family writes that “Mark cared deeply about fairness and justice and was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s,” providing a clue to the sources of the compassion and human understanding that define Steadman’s work.