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.”
Helprin’s novel Refiner’s Fire: The Life and Adventures of Marshall Pearl, a...
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