This dissertation examines the life and writing of Sumner Locke Elliott (1917-1991). It is a biographical study which argues that through the canon of his work, Elliott both defined and attempted to come to terms with his sense of otherness, difference. A principle focus in this context is his perception of his family and childhood as central to his difference: through his writing he continually renegotiated and reassessed his family and himself in an effort to understand and to psychologically exorcise his own 'outsider' status. It is argued that ancestral memory is at the core of Elliott's art and life. His inherited name is emblematic of his sense of being more than the sum of his own parts; a collective or cumulative centre which encompasses the entire matriarchal generation preceeding him. This is reflected in the dialogical form of his books (a narrative structure through which the writer is thinking/speaking/writing through many voices, consciousnesses and points of view). This dissertation similarly depicts Elliott's life as one of a developing dialogic imagination. To this end, the many voices and conflicting view points that informed him are heard throughout this narrative. Only against the background of family was Elliott able to distinguish and decipher his own self-delineation.
Elliott's writings - his juvenilia; his early stage and radio plays; his more mature stage works; his television scripts for America; his only Broadway play; and his ten major novels are critically evaluated and discussed in terms of the intersection between art and life.