John Knowles (September 16, 1926 - November 29, 2001), b. Fairmont, West Virginia, was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.
A 1945 graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949W. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles' experiences at Exeter during the summer of 1943. The setting for The Devon School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:
The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, athleticism, and loyalty.
The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles took to his grave the secret of whether Finny was all a part of his imagination, or an actual friend whose true identity was never spoken.
Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."
Knowles' other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works were as well received as A Separate Peace.
A resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.