Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Mark Helprin was born on June 28, 1947, in New York City. His father, Morris Helprin, worked in the film industry, eventually becoming president of London Films. Eleanor Lynn Helprin, Mark’s mother, was a successful actress, starring in several Broadway productions in the 1930’s and 1940’s. When Mark was six, the family left New York City for the prosperous Hudson River Valley suburb of Ossining, New York.
Helprin attended Harvard University, earning his English degree in 1969. After that he attended Stanford University briefly, moved to Israel for a few months, and then returned to Harvard, where he completed a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies in 1972. During an additional nine months in Israel, he became a dual citizen and was drafted into the Israeli army. Though he did not see any combat duty, it was an experience he would use in many of his stories and novels. Upon leaving Israel, he attended Princeton University and the University of Oxford for short periods.
Helprin first realized that he had a talent for writing when he was seventeen. He wrote a description of the Hagia Sophia, the cathedral in Istanbul that he had never seen, and was so proud of the result that he decided that writing was something he could do, and do well. He went on to write numerous short stories which he submitted to Harper’s and The New Yorker. After a dozen rejections, The New Yorker accepted two at once: “Because of the Waters of the Flood” and “Leaving the Church.”
Those two stories, and eighteen others, were published in 1975 in the collection A Dove of the East, and Other Stories. This volume, with its wide range of characters, settings, and themes, received generally good reviews. Writer John Gardner was impressed with Helprin’s handling of various cultures and wrote that Helprin “seemed to be born and raised everywhere.”...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
After finishing nearly any of Helprin’s novels or stories, the reader is left with the feeling that, despite tragedy and misfortune, life is as it should be. The author’s love of life and his joy in using language sweep the reader up into the world of imagination. Though some critics think that Helprin’s style is overdone and his happy endings are too unrealistic, others find his work an antidote for the nihilism, despair, and purposely artless writing that are characteristic of much contemporary fiction. The reader is uplifted by Helprin’s stories and given new eyes with which to see a world filled with mystery and beauty.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Born in New York City, Mark Helprin grew up an only child in Ossining, New York. His mother, Eleanor Lynn, was a Broadway leading lady in the late 1930’s; his father Morris Helprin was a graduate of Columbia University and worked as a reporter, a film reviewer, and an editor for The New York Times before entering the film industry. Eventually, the elder Helprin became president of Alexander Korda’s London Films.
After graduating from high school in 1965, Helprin attended Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in English in 1969. He then entered the English doctoral program at Stanford University but left after one term and moved to Israel. He returned to Harvard University in 1970, and after finishing an M.A. in Middle Eastern studies in 1972, Helprin went back to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army (he had become a dual citizen). He served from 1972 to 1973 in the army and in the air force. He has also served in the British Merchant Navy.
Helprin’s main hobby is mountain-climbing, and he has climbed Mount Rainier, which is local to his home in Seattle, as well as Mount Etna. Aside from a short stint at Princeton University and a year of postgraduate work at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, in 1976-1977, Helprin concentrated mainly on the writing of fiction after his return to the United States. In 1986 Helprin moved from New York to Seattle, Washington. A reclusive man, Helprin seldom grants interviews or appears in public forums.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Mark Helprin is the only child of Morris Helprin, a journalist who became the president of London Films in California, and Eleanor Lynn (née Lin), a Broadway actor in the 1930’s and daughter of Max Lin, a Jew from Sinkiang Province in China. Born in New York City, Helprin spent his early years in Hollywood, California, before his family settled in Ossining, a town along New York’s Hudson River known mainly for the prison located there, Sing Sing. Born two months premature, Helprin suffered from problems with his spine and his lungs and was frequently ill as a child.
Helprin earned his B.A. in English from Harvard University, where in 1972 he also earned an M.A. in Middle Eastern studies. He lived in Israel in 1973 and spent the 1982-1983 academic year in Rome after he received the Prix de Rome. He has traced the start of his literary career to the summer of 1964, when on a trip through Europe he wrote a description of the Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul from memory on a blotter in a hotel in Paris. Between 1965 and 1969, he wrote numerous short stories, eventually selling two simultaneously to The New Yorker.
In 1989, Helprin signed an unusual multibook publishing contract with the publishing firm Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which bought the rights to three forthcoming novels and two collections of short stories. His 1995 novel Memoir from Antproof Case was the first book published under this arrangement. Since 1999,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
“In the tunnels of contemporary American fiction,” Mark Helprin noted in 1988, “the moles are singing. They are singing in unison, they are singing to each other, and they are singing of darkness.” Against these literary moles, with their darkened vision, defeated characters, and bleakly ironic minimalist style, Helprin stands apart and largely alone: a writer wildly extravagant and overwhelmingly affirmative, a true believer in an art that is “consequential” and, as John Gardner has claimed, essentially “moral.”
Helprin, the son of immigrant parents, is remarkably reticent about his personal life, and his politics and his whimsical treatment of interviewers have led to some doubt about the veracity of his autobiographical statements. Yet he incorporates many details from his life—such as his childhood in New York’s Hudson River Valley, his brief residence in the British West Indies, his service in the British Merchant Navy, his Harvard education (he received a B.A. in 1969 and an M.A. in Middle Eastern studies in 1972), and a two-year stint in the Israeli military from 1972 to 1973—in his fantastic and oddly autobiographical fiction. Although Helprin is Jewish by birth and belief, if not in actual practice, his fictions rarely feature Jewish characters and do not take their central themes from Jewish life and philosophy.
Helprin sold his first short story to The New Yorker when he was twenty-one years old. Reviewers greeted his subsequent work with considerable praise, but academic critics largely ignored it. Variously set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in places as different as the American West, Sicily, Russia, and Israel, and dealing with a diverse cast of characters (pacifists, soldiers, fishermen, clerks), the twenty stories collected in A Dove of the East, and Other Stories display the singleness of purpose and intensity of vision built upon an intuitive sense of right and wrong and, above all, on love and loss. Even the shortest of these stories possess an expansiveness out of all proportion to their length but commensurate with the vastness of Helprin’s vision of a world whose harshness is matched by a compensatory majesty. As in all his work, Helprin’s language in these stories equals his vision: opulent, “ravishing,” excessive, concerned not with the probable but instead with the possible or even the impossible, not with what does happen but with what one believes should happen in stories “full of lies that [are] true.”
A Dove of the East, and Other Stories deals largely with death; Refiner’s Fire deals with resurrection. In the stories, the soul is tempered and refined by the crucible of loss; in the novel, war serves the same purpose....
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