John Knowles was born in 1926 in Fairmont, West Virginia; at age 15, he became a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, a well-known boarding school in New Hampshire, not unlike Devon, the fictional school he writes about in A Separate Peace. He graduated from Exeter in 1945, but did not immediately proceed to college. Instead, he joined the war effort as part of the U.S. Army Air Force's Aviation Cadet Program, and became a student at Yale University after completing several months in the program. He obtained his bachelor's degree from Yale in 1949.
After graduation, Knowles traveled to Europe and worked as a journalist until the mid 1950's; his work also consisted of various free-lance pieces and short stories. He returned to the United States from Europe in 1957, and took a position as an associate editor at Holiday magazine. With encouragement from Thornton Wilder, who took interest in Knowles' writing, he started working on A Separate Peace, which became his first published novel. When the novel became successful, Knowles was able to quit his job with the magazine, and devote himself to his writing.
In addition to A Separate Peace, John Knowles has published eight other books; in addition, he wrote a travel book, and also published a collection of his short stories. Knowles was honored with the position of writer-in-residence at both Princeton University and the University of North Carolina, and has also given lectures at various schools across the country.
Knowles' biggest success was his first, and none of his other novels have achieved the status that A Separate Peace has enjoyed; however, as in his first work, his main themes are greed, competitiveness, and corruption in the lives of wealthy American characters. John Knowles passed away on November 29th, 2001.