The grandson of first-generation Jewish immigrants, Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 3, 1947, to Samuel and Queenie Auster. He grew up in South Orange and attended high school in Maplewood, twenty miles southwest of New York City. His father was a landlord; his mother was thirteen years younger than her husband. Auster examines the complexities of his relationship with his parents and of their relationship with each other in The Invention of Solitude (1982) and Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure (1997).
In 1959 Auster’s uncle, Allen Mandelbaum, a talented translator, left boxes of books in storage at the Auster home when he traveled to Europe. Auster discovered and read all of the books, and this sparked his interest in writing and literature. He began to write poems as a teenager and showed his poems to Mandelbaum, who was a tough but fair critic.
After Auster graduated from high school, he left to travel around Europe for the summer. He went to Spain, Italy, France, and Ireland. While traveling, he began work on a novel. He returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University in the fall. In 1967 he again left America to spend his junior year studying in Paris. Though he loved Paris, he became disillusioned with college and dropped out of the year abroad program, choosing to live instead in a small hotel on the rue Clément. He returned to New York in November and was, fortunately, reinstated in Columbia.
A high lottery number in the Vietnam War draft kept Auster from serving. He went on to get both his B.A. and M.A. in English from Columbia. Instead of pursuing a Ph.D., he took a job with the U.S. Census Bureau. After that, he worked as a merchant seaman on the Esso Florence to fund a move to France. He lived in France for four years, working as a translator and as a caretaker of a farm in Provence.
He married the writer Lydia Davis in 1974, and they had a son, Daniel. When he returned to New York, Auster published his first two books of poetry, Unearth (1974) and Wall Writing (1976). He divorced Lydia in 1979 and married Siri Hustuedt, whom he had met at a poetry reading, in 1981. He and Hustuedt had a daughter, Sophie. Auster received Ingram Merrill Foundation grants in both 1975 and 1982, and he also received National Endowments of the Arts fellowships in 1979 and 1985. In 1979 and 1980 he worked on “Portrait of an Invisible Man” and “The Book of Memory,” memoirs which would make up The Invention of Solitude (1982), his first major work of prose. He also, at this time, edited The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry (1982).
Auster continued to write poetry and essays, and to translate French literature, until his breakthrough novel, City of Glass (1985), the first book of The New York Trilogy (1990), which was nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novel in 1986. The second volume of The New York Trilogy, Ghosts (1986), was also well received, and the third volume, The Locked Room (1986), was nominated for numerous awards.
Auster taught creative writing at Princeton University from 1986 to 1990. In 1994 he worked with director Wayne Wang on the films Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1995). Coincidentally, Wang had become a fan of Auster when he read “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story,” which appeared as an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times on Christmas Day, 1990. This tale of confused identities was eventually used in the moving last act of Smoke.
Auster also published the novels In the Country of Last Things (1987), Moon Palace (1989), The Music of Chance (1990), Leviathan (1992), Mr. Vertigo (1994), Timbuktu (1999), The Book of Illusions (2002), and Oracle Night (2003). Picador published his Collected Prose in 2003, and Overlook Press published his Collected Poems in 2004. Auster also wrote and directed the film Lulu on the Bridge (1998), edited and translated The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection (1983, 2005), and edited and wrote an introduction for the collection I Thought My Father Was God
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