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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