Michael M. Rea, devotee of the short story and founder in 1986 of the Rea Award for the Short Story, was born on January 19, 1927 in New York City and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents were Oliver Rea and Margaret Moorhead Rea, prominent citizens of Pittsburgh. At seventeen, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in North China at the end of World War II. In 1952, he graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in English. From 1952 to 1969, he was Vice President of the Oliver Tyrone Corporation, a family real estate firm in Pittsburgh. From 1970 to 1979 he was active in real estate in the Washington, D.C. area. There he founded Harrea Broadcasting Inc., which owned and operated radio stations in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
In 1980, he moved to New York City and subsequently bought a home in Connecticut, which became his primary residence. From that time on, he immersed himself in art, manuscript and rare book collecting and publishing. His library included several hundred first edition volumes of American short fiction covering the period between 1800 and 1950. A passionate reader, he was also a writer of short stories.
Michael Rea was a collector of paintings, drawings and sculptures ranging from the Bronze Age to American and European art. He served as a Trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Norton Museum of Art. Through his company, Sweetwater Editions, he published deluxe limited editions of Isaac Bashevis Singer's, Satan in Goray, and Early American Stone Sculpture: Found in the Burying Grounds of New England (reprinted by the Smithsonian Institution Press). Mr. Rea also edited the anthology The American Story: Short Stories from The Rea Award (Ecco Press, 1994). The book consists of 21 stories by Rea Award winners and nominees selected by seven Rea Award jurors: Ann Beattie, Stanley Elkin, Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, Shannon Ravenel, Joy Williams and Tobias Wolff.
To administer the yearly Rea Award for The Short Story, Mr. Rea established the Dungannon Foundation. He traced his love of the short story back to Irish forebears. "The Irish were great storytellers," he said. The Dungannon Foundation is named for his paternal hometown in Northern Ireland. "The basic thrust of the award," Mr. Rea noted, "is to foster a literary cause -to ennoble the form and give it prestige." He gave complete independence to an annual jury of three notable literary figures and chose not to participate in the judging process.
Under the direction of his widow, Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, photographer and curator, the Rea Award continues as does the other activities of the Dungannon Foundation, which include support for the Visiting Rea Writers and Rea Visiting Lecturers at various colleges and universities
Michael M. Rea died in the summer of 1996.
Several writers and friends offered testimonials to Michael and the Rea Award in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, 1997.