Paul Auster Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Auster is often viewed as an experimental writer, but in the end, he has a very traditional take on how stories should be told. His narratives are straightforward, and everything—the textual puzzles, the conventional detective motifs, the labyrinthine logic, and the noir imagery—serves the story. He writes in lucid prose and is often referred to as a metaphysical detective novelist because of his deep concern with issues of self-invention and doubt. Auster’s work is organized around themes of synchronicity and chance, of randomness and causality, but he never alienates the reader by sacrificing the inherent pleasures of storytelling.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paul Benjamin Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 3, 1947, and grew up in the suburbs of Newark. He benefited early from the influence of an uncle who was a skilled translator and who encouraged his nephew’s developing interest in writing and literature. In the summer between high school and college, Auster traveled to Europe, returning to the United States to attend Columbia University. He supported himself during his college years with a variety of freelance jobs, including translation and interpretation. Auster graduated from Columbia in 1969 with a B.A. in English and comparative literature, and he received his M.A. in the literature of the Renaissance the following year. Auster returned to Paris in 1971 and lived in France until 1974.

Back in New York in late 1974, Auster married the writer Lydia Davis. Together they worked on translations, and Auster began to publish poetry, reviews, and essays. In 1977, their son Daniel was born. Auster was at a low point in his life at this time—his marriage was failing, and he was unhappy with his writing career and having financial difficulties. By 1979 his marriage had ended. When his father died suddenly of a heart attack and left him a small inheritance, Auster was able to write without financial worry. He continued to work on poetry and translation, but by 1980 he had begun work on The Invention of Solitude, which includes a tribute to his father.

In 1981, Auster met...

(The entire section is 547 words.)