American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

McCORMICK, JAY W. (1919- ). Jay W. McCormick was born and grew up in the small Lake Huron port town of Harbor Beach, Michigan. His father was a Great Lakes* ship captain, and the younger McCormick spent considerable time sailing the Lakes with him. After he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1942, he became a reporter for the Detroit News and ultimately taught English at Wayne State University.

Of his two published novels, November Storm (1943) is the more critically acclaimed and successful because of McCormick’s close association with, and knowledge of, its subject. Originally written while he was a senior at Michigan, it won a prestigious Hopwood Award in creative writing from that institution in 1942. The story, considered by some critics to be the best portrayal of life aboard a Great Lakes ship, concerns a teenage boy who takes a job as deckhand on an ore carrier. In this rite of passage, an awkward and naive young man is initiated not only into the life of a sailor but into life as an adult as well. The confined and claustrophobic space of the ship, its own microcosm, forces him into contact with a number of characters, many of whom are deftly drawn. The crew are only ordinary men, but the very ordinariness of their lives brings out desire, pettiness, jealousy, and violence. The dramatic climax of the novel comes when a terrifying autumn storm descends upon the ship in Lake Michigan.

Robert Beasecker