Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff was born June 19, 1945, in Birmingham, Alabama, to Rosemary Loftus and Arthur Saunders “Duke” Wolff. His older brother, Geoffrey, also became a writer of fiction and memoirs. When Wolff was four years old, his parents separated; he lived with Rosemary while his brother stayed with their father. In 1955, Wolff and his mother moved to Seattle, where she remarried. The stressful period of this marriage is described in Wolff’s 1989 memoir, This Boy’s Life. Wolff managed to escape to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, from which he was expelled in 1963. Shortly afterward, he entered the armed services and served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. A few years after his military service, he attended Oxford University in England, earning a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature. In 1975, he married Catherine Dolores Spohn. Further study took him to Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner fellow in creative writing and earned an M.A. in English in 1978.
Following graduation from Stanford, Wolff began teaching at colleges and universities, including Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont (1978); Arizona State University (1979); Syracuse University in New York (1980-1997); and, beginning in 1998, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Throughout his teaching career, he has published dozens of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Given the emphasis in Tobias Wolff’s writing on lies and the construction of identity, it is fitting that his literary reputation rests on both fiction and memoir. His fiction often draws from his life, and his memoirs admittedly contain some subjective recreations of the truth. A theme of self-doubt and, at times, self-blame, runs through much of Wolff’s writing; his descriptions of the many ways people disappoint one another contain elements of apology but also of forgiveness. Although his work is never overtly religious, some stories include confessions of sin and an expressed desire to reform and to make amends. Others, however, are portraits of people struggling with a half-realized sense of inadequacy, which often takes the form of coldness or hostility toward others. Wolff’s chiding of human failure includes sympathy and rarely becomes simply satire.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Readers are lucky to have two prime sources dealing with Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff’s parents and Wolff’s early life: Wolff’s own memoir and a recollection of his father entitled The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father (1979), written by Wolff’s older brother, the novelist Geoffrey Wolff. Together, these works portray a remarkable family, though Rosemary Loftus Wolff, Wolff’s mother, wryly observed that, if she had known so much was going to be told, she might have watched herself more closely.
The one who bore watching, however, was Wolff’s inventive father, a genial Gatsby-like figure who, in pursuit of the good life, forged checks, credentials, and his own identity. He began as Arthur Samuels Wolff, a Jewish doctor’s son and boarding-school expellee, but later emerged as Arthur Saunders Wolff, an Episcopalian and Yale University graduate. A still later reincarnation was as Saunders Ansell-Wolff III. On the basis of forged credentials, he became an aeronautical engineer and rose to occupy an executive suite. During his time, however, he also occupied a number of jail cells. Still, he showed remarkable creativity in his fabrications, so perhaps it is not surprising that both his sons became writers of fiction. Family life with him was something of a roller coaster, exciting but with many ups and downs. Eventually, this instability led to the family’s breakup in 1951: Twelve-year-old Geoffrey remained with the father, while...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is one of the most highly respected writers of short fiction to have achieved prominence in the 1980’s. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 19, 1945, the son of Arthur and Rosemary (Loftus) Wolff, and grew up in the state of Washington, where he and his mother had moved some six years after his parents’ divorce in 1951. Wolff left his home in rural Washington to attend preparatory school at the Hill School in Pennsylvania but failed to graduate from that institution. After enlisting in the U.S. Army, Special Forces, serving from 1964 to 1968, during which time he served in Vietnam, Wolff earned a bachelor’s degree from Oxford University in 1972 and a master’s degree from Oxford in 1975. He spent the 1975-1976 academic year at Stanford University, having won a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in creative writing. He earned a master’s degree from Stanford in 1978, the same year in which he received his first National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Like many other contemporary writers, Wolff has supported himself by teaching. He has served on the faculties of Stanford University, Goddard College, Arizona State University, and Syracuse University and has been a reporter for The Washington Post. Wolff published his first collection of stories, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, in 1981. The book received exceptional reviews, and the following year it earned for Wolff the St. Lawrence Award for...
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Tobias Wolff was born in 1945 in Alabama. His parents divorced when he was a boy. Wolff’s mother retained custody of him, while his brother Geoffrey— who also became a writer—lived with their father. As a child, Wolff traveled with his mother, Rosemary, to the Pacific Northwest, where she remarried. This period of Wolff’s life is recounted in This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, which was later made into a film.
Wolff briefly attended preparatory school on the East Coast, but he was expelled. From 1964 through 1968, Wolff served as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) in Vietnam. He later recounted his wartime experiences in the memoir In the Pharaoh’s Army: Memoirs of the Lost War.
Wolff earned his B.A. in 1972 and then his M.A. from Oxford University three years later. That year, his first book, Ugly Rumours, was published in London. Also that year, he won a prestigious Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. From 1975 through 1978, he worked as a Stegner lecturer at Stanford, and in 1978, he received a second M.A.
Wolff began publishing regularly with the 1981 appearance of the short story collection In the Garden of the North American Martyrs. Over the next four years, Wolff published two more short story collections. His stories also appeared in numerous magazines, and several have been selected for inclusion in the O. Henry Prize Stories series. Wolff has also been...
(The entire section is 316 words.)
Tobias Wolff was born as Jonathan Ansell Wolff on June 19, 1945, in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, Arthur Wolff, was an aeronautical engineer, and his mother, Rosemary Loftus, the daughter of a career navy man, was working as a secretary at the time of his birth. Wolff's childhood was chaotic, as his father (called "The Duke of Deception" by Wolff's brother Geoffrey in a memoir of that title) was a master of prevarication who constructed an elaborate false history—bogus degrees; a manufactured military record—which enabled him to secure an executive position in the aerospace industry in Connecticut. His family described him as a con-man, forger, car thief scrounger, dandy and drunkard, but also as a charming, charismatic, endlessly inventive man whose lies had a compelling quality which affected Tobias to the degree that he told Jean Ross in an interview: "I was a liar myself when I was a kid. I'm still a liar, really.... I wouldn't ever want to be held to a literal version of the facts when I tell a story."
The elder Wolff's instability led Rosemary to leave him when Tobias (then called Toby) was five years old. Wolff's older brother Geoffrey stayed with his father, while Toby went with his mother to live in Florida. When the man they were living with became abusive (repeating the harsh behavior of Rosemary's own father), they moved to Utah, and then to Seattle, where Toby began to call himself "Jack" (for the novelist Jack London) and had already...
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The widely respected author Tobias Wolff followed an unlikely and meandering path to such a position. As his memoir This Boy’s Life chronicles, Wolff’s childhood and adolescence were unconventional and unpromising. Wolff was born in 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama, the second son of Arthur Wolff, an aeronautical engineer, and his wife, Rosemary. When Wolff was four his parents separated. His brother Geoffrey stayed with his father, and Wolff moved on with his mother.
Wolff and his mother moved from Florida to Utah, to Seattle, before settling in the remote Washington town of Chinook. His adolescence was characterized by loneliness, delinquency, and abuse from his stepfather. Finally fed up with his own dead-end life in high school, Wolff reestablished contact with his brother. Geoffrey Wolff, then a student at Princeton University, encouraged his younger brother to make more of himself and helped him channel his imagination into writing. Not completely reformed, however, Wolff forged both his transcript and letters of recommendation so that he would be admitted to and offered a scholarship by the elite boarding school, the Hill School. Though he was successful in getting in, he was eventually expelled because, as he says in This Boy’s Life, he ‘‘knew nothing.’’
After his expulsion, Wolff joined the army and served in Vietnam. He then legitimately passed the entrance exams at England’s Oxford University where he earned...
(The entire section is 365 words.)