Breece D’J Pancake

By: Alix Lambert
June 29, 2011

The author BREECE D’J PANCAKE (1952-79) wrote exactly one book of stories, which was published posthumously; he shot himself at the age of 26. Originally named Breece Dexter Pancake, he added John when he converted to Catholicism; his name was misprinted with “D’J” in the middle when he published his first short story in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1977. He liked it and kept it that way. Pancake’s stories, in which I always and every time find something new, something bottomless that makes me breathe differently for a time after reading, were mostly set in the Appalachian (West Virginia) world in which he grew up. He often explored the dark, un-ending despair of his characters (and of himself). This is how he ends his story “Trilobites“:

I get up. I’ll spend tonight at home. I’ve got eyes to shut in Michigan — maybe even Germany or China, I don’t know yet. I walk, but I’m not scared. I feel my fear moving away in rings through time for a million years.

Pancake attended graduate school at The University of Virginia and once wrote home to his mother: “I’m going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There’s something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I’ll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don’t want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Stokely Carmichael and Antoine de Sainte-Exupery.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).


HiLo Heroes, Literature