Don DeLillo was born in New York City on November 20, 1936. The son of Italian immigrants, he was raised as a Roman Catholic and grew up in Pennsylvania and in New York City’s South Bronx. He graduated from Fordham University in 1958 with a degree in communication arts. He worked for several years in advertising before quitting to devote himself to writing. Earning a Guggenheim Fellowship, he lived for a while in Greece, which served as the setting for The Names (1982).
Among DeLillo’s major works are the novels Americana (1971), End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street (1973), Ratner’s Star (1976), Players (1977), Running Dog (1978), The Names, White Noise (1985), Libra (1989), and Underworld (1997). His books were always favorably reviewed, but he did not see a major breakthrough until the publication of White Noise, which caught many readers’ attention with its depiction of a dangerous chemical leak and was honored in 1986 with the American Book Award. When DeLillo published the controversial Libra, a fictionalized version of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he became firmly established in the canon of writers who are both successful in the marketplace, critically analyzed, and regularly included on syllabi. Besides his novels, DeLillo has published short stories as well as the experimental plays The Engineer of...
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In more than forty years of fiction, in a remarkable body of inventive work that crosses many genres, DeLillo has maintained a consistent interest in defining and defending the self in a late-century materialist and media culture that appears to militate against any assertion of the dignity and worth of the individual. As the son of immigrants, DeLillo brought to the post-World War II American novel the acute sensibility of the outsider, one who is both deeply aware of its culture and frankly critical of it. A gifted satirist who uses eccentric characters and often labyrinthine plots a vehicle to explore ideas and critique contemporary culture, DeLillo most often uses narrative to indict, yet he never relinquishes his faith in language itself to address these issues and, as a profoundly religious writer, ultimately in the dignity and grace of the individual to be greater, finer, than the surrounding culture.
Don DeLillo was born in New York City in November of 1936. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Pennsylvania and the South Bronx. After studying at Fordham University, he lived for a while in Canada and then returned to New York, which he made his home.
The author of challenging novels about contemporary mass culture, Don DeLillo (duh-LIHL-oh) is among the most important American fiction writers of the second half of the twentieth century. Born and raised in the Bronx in New York City, he received a B.A. from Fordham University in 1958. Details of his life from then until the publication of Americana in 1971 are sketchy at best, as DeLillo guarded his privacy and granted few interviews. His first published story appeared in 1960, and during the subsequent decade six additional short stories appeared in such major literary journals as Epoch and The Kenyon Review and in such magazines as Esquire. During the 1980’s DeLillo won several major awards, including a 1984 Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; a 1985 American Book Award for White Noise, and a 1988 American Book Award nomination for Libra, and a PEN/Faulkner Award for Mao II.
DeLillo, who was reared in a Catholic environment and educated at a Jesuit university, writes fiction concerned with the secularization of myth and ritual in a mass culture. He works in a tradition of American novel writing that extends from Nathanael West to Robert Coover and Thomas Pynchon, with whom he is often compared. Each of his novels decodes a particular system by which contemporary human beings seek the comfort of a totalizing order, but always amid the onslaught of entropic, catastrophic forces. DeLillo focuses on complex structures of thought colliding with life’s ultimacies: randomness, the arbitrariness of language, violence, and death. These clashes are typically staged in tableaux of a sacrificial violence that eerily mimes the entropies of nature, an ironic reminder that human rage for order contains the seeds of that very disorder that is intended to be surmounted.
DeLillo’s career has unfolded in phases. The first, in which he published three novels in as many years, concerns the ordering technologies of American mass culture: cinematography in Americana, sports in End Zone, and popular music in Great Jones Street. All three novels are notable for their satire on the absurdities and paranoias of life in Middle America. In each the first-person narration and episodic plotting brings into play a large cast of secondary characters; also in each, the protagonists seek more authentic versions of themselves in exile from mass culture, only to reenter it out of resignation and with an idea of subverting its discourses.
When Ratner’s Star appeared after a three-year hiatus, nothing in DeLillo’s previous novels had prepared readers for the depth and breadth of its scientific allusions. His longest and most ambitious work before Libra, Ratner’s Star focuses on a fourteen-year-old Nobel Prize recipient in mathematics who is assigned to decode an extraterrestrial signal apparently sent from a planet circling Ratner’s...
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