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American writer Walter Tevis (1928-1984), whose novel The Queen’s Gambit is a critically acclaimed Netflix adaptation, was institutionalised for twelve months as a child. Walter Stone Tevis was born in San Francisco, California.

Walter Stone Tevis was born in San Francisco, California. He contracted rheumatic fever when he was ten, was hospitalised and given heavy doses of drugs. While he was still in hospital, his parents went to live in Kentucky with Walter’s paternal aunt. Walter was left in the hospital for twelve months before he travelled to Kentucky on his own to join his family. 

Tevis served for two years in WWII, after which he attended the University of Kentucky, earning both a Bachelor & Masters degree in English. He then taught at various local high schools. He taught at Ohio University for twelve years beginning in 1966. 

Tevis’ first book, The Hustler, was published in 1959 and adapted for film in 1961. The film, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, became a classic. The Hustler was followed by The Man Who Fell to Earth, published in 1963. In 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth was also adapted for film, starring David Bowie. 

From 1963 Tevis struggled with alcoholism until he stopped drinking in 1975, not publishing another book—Mockingbird—until 1980. Mockingbird was followed by Far From Home in 1981. The Steps of the Sun and The Queen’s Gambit were both published in 1983. 

Both of these novels [The Hustler and The Queen’s Gambit] can be seen as autobiographical, in the sense that Tevis had to overcome many obstacles in his life, including alcoholism. Tevis became consumed by this disease and did not write for seventeen years. When he finally got help and recovered, his success was greater than ever. Tevis began writing again and was in better physical and emotional health than he had been in years. He got his life back, and once again ended up top (English). 

The Queen’s Gambit has now been adapted into a seven-part mini-series and is, according to Ian Rogers, Australia’s first chess Grandmaster, “one of the most watched shows on Netflix – worldwide and in Australia. 


English, Lisa. “Walter Tevis.” KYLIT, A Site devoted to Kentucky Writers, 5 October 1997. 

Rogers, Ian. “I’m a Grandmaster and The Queen’s Gambit has all the right moves.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 2020. 

Sallis, James. “The Man Who Fell to Earth/Mockingbird.” Fantasy & Science Fiction, vol. 99, no. 2 (2000): 32-37. 

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