Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719
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 (2001). Auster received the Morto Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990, the esteemed Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des et des Lettres in 1993, and the Prix Medicis for foreign literature, also in 1993, for Leviathan. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 101
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.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547
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 and married Siri Hustvedt. A fertile time in his writing career began, and during the 1980’s he published The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, The Art of Hunger, and more translations. The three novels of The New York Trilogy, as well as In the Country of Last Things and Moon Palace, received good reviews. He worked as a teacher of creative writing at Princeton University from 1986 to 1990, and his daughter Sophie was born in 1987.
Auster’s next novel, The Music of Chance, published in 1990, attracted the attention of the motion-picture industry, and a film version was released in 1993. At the same time, Auster’s story “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” appeared in The New York Times, and director Wayne Wang became interested in turning the story into a film. Auster’s script became the film Smoke, which was followed shortly by the companion piece Blue in the Face. By the time the two films were released in 1995, Auster had published two more novels, Leviathan and Mr. Vertigo. In 1997, the memoir Hand to Mouth was released. Auster was a member of the jury for the 1997 Cannes Film Festival; in 1998, the film Lulu on the Bridge appeared.
Timbuktu marked Auster’s return to novel writing in 1999. The novels The Book of Illusions, Oracle Night, The Brooklyn Follies, Travels in the Scriptorium, and Man in the Dark appeared in rapid succession through the first decade of the twenty-first century, along with volumes of his collected poetry and nonfiction, collaborations with recording and visual artists, and another film, The Inner Life of Martin Frost.
Auster continues to produce novels, screenplays, nonfiction, and collaborative multimedia works. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, a location that has influenced much of his work. At the same time, he is deeply connected to Europe, where his work is popularly and critically acclaimed.
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