Jon Manchip White is a distinguished Welsh-American writer who has published over 30 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry over a long writing career. His works of fiction include both novels, collections of short stories and many scripts for film and television. His non-fiction books include history, biography, archaeology, anthropology, travel and personal essays.
Manchip White traces his ancestry to seafaring stock — sailors and shipowners — around the Bristol Channel and, in particular, Cardiff on the coast of South Wales where he was born. For example, among his father’s ancestors was Rawlins White, owner of a fishing fleet, who was burned at the stake during the Marian persecution in 1555. Cardiff, around the turn of the 20th century, was one of the most important industrial ports in Great Britain. His father, Gwilym Manchip White, was the only male of his immediate family who did not go to sea. However, his father did make his living as part owner and managing director of the Taff Vale Shipping Company.
Around 1924, when he was born, two events conspired to greatly effect his family’s fortune and influence his childhood. First, the Depression (or Slump, as it was known in Britain) had a severe effect on South Wales and the shipping industry. Gwilym Manchip White struggled to keep his business going and protect his employees. Second, when Jon was three or four, his father contracted tuberculosis, a much more lethal disease at that time than it is today, and he suffered for ten years in hospitals and sanatoriums or confined to a bed at home. When Jon was eight, at the height of his father’s illness, his parents decided to lessen his risk of infection by sending him to an English boarding school twenty miles north of London. Although he considered the school a prison that kept him from his family and the places of his childhood, he did receive a first rate education which helped prepare him for later success.
During his school years, Jon Manchip White decided that the best way to reverse the decline of his family’s fortunes was to win a scholarship to a university. In 1941, Manchip White was awarded an Exhibition in English to St. Catharine’s College at Cambridge. He studied there from 1942 to 1943 until he came of age for military service in World War II. Following family tradition, he was automatically enrolled in the Naval Training Unit. During the war, he went to sea, taking part in the convoys that ferried troops and materials across the Atlantic. Towards the end of the war, he accepted the opportunity of joining the Welsh Guards, one of the five regiments of His Majesty’s Foot Guards. On VE day, he met his future wife, Valerie Leighton, a nurse during the war. Later, the Manchip Whites raised two daughters, Bronwen and Rhiannon, names that were taken from the Welsh epic, The Mabinogion.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1950, Manchip White moved to London and became story editor for the newly established BBC Television Service. During his time at the BBC, he read scripts, made adaptations, and wrote original dramas. From 1952 to 1956, Manchip White served Britain as a Senior Executive officer in the British Foreign Service. He continued to write poetry and novels during his time in public service, and he resigned his job to concentrate full time on his writing as an independent author. From 1956 to 1967 he worked as a screenwriter for movies, including a period employed by Samuel Bronston Productions in Paris, Rome and Madrid, where he spent five years. During this time, he traveled widely around Europe and other parts of the world like South Africa. His travels helped to increase his knowledge and provided him the opportunity to research subjects and places for travel and non-fiction books.
In the mid-sixties, Jon Manchip White felt the time had arrived to change his circumstances, to shake up his routine. Ever the wanderer, he decided to go to the United States, a place he had admired since college when he wrote a dissertation on the Pueblo Indians. Around this time, he had met the critic and biographer, Cleanth Brooks, who had been in London as the Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy. Brooks suggested that Manchip White look for a position at an American university, and he wrote him a recommendation. In 1967 Jon accepted a job as the writer-in-residence at the University of Texas at El Paso where he started the creative writing program. He enjoyed and excelled at teaching, and eventually he received a full professorship. Teaching also allowed him more time to focus of his main ambition of being a writer of books. The position at El Paso gave him the opportunity to explore the American Southwest and Mexico. As much as he loved Texas, in 1977, he was offered a position at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville as the Lindsay Young Professor of English, an offer too good to refuse. He was the founder of the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee, and has since grown to love East Tennessee with its beautiful forests and mountains.
Jon Manchip White has become an American citizen. He continues to live
and write in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1997, Iris Audio Publications released
two audio tapes of the author reading from his book of short stories,
Whistling Past the Churchyard: Strange Tales From a Superstitious Welshman.
In 1999 Iris Press republished his memoir, The Journeying Boy: Scenes
From a Welsh Childhood originally published by Atlantic Monthly Press
in 1992. Iris, in 2007, published his new historical novel, Solo Goya:
Goya and the Duchess of Alba at Sanlúcar based on episodes
in the life of the great Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. This novel,
along with his earlier biographies of Diego Velázques and Hernán
Cortés, concludes what Jon has called his Spanish Trilogy.