Paul Zindel Biography
Paul Zindel has written a host of wackily titled works, including Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball and My Darling, My Hamburger. Though trained at Wagner College as a chemist, Zindel is famous for his plays and young adult novels, many of which are still taught in schools. Zindel’s books tend to focus on abused and neglected children dealing with loneliness and isolation. They are often dark and tragic works, yet many of them have a humorous tone and deal with issues universal to teenagers. Zindel’s own early experiences shaped his writing. His father left the family when he was young, and his mother—a professional nurse—often got caught up in cons and other shady activities. Zindel’s first novel, The Pigman, has been widely banned because of its language and subject matter, but it remains one of his most popular.
Facts and Trivia
- Zindel taught science for a number of years but eventually gave it up. He said, “I felt I could do more for teenagers by writing for them.” He wanted to show teenagers they had a voice through his fiction.
- Zindel was greatly influenced by playwright Edward Albee, who wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Zindel once took a ten-day seminar with Albee and tried to model his career after him.
- Zindel wrote the screenplay for the flop film version of Mame, which starred Lucille Ball.
- Zindel’s children followed in his artistic footsteps. His daughter Lizabeth is a playwright and actress, and his son David is a filmmaker.
- The characters of John and Lorraine in The Pigman were inspired by real-life teenagers whom Zindel knew.
Paul Zindel was born in Staten Island, New York, on May 15, 1936, the son of Paul and Beatrice Mary Frank Zindel. His father, a policeman, deserted his family when Paul was two years old, leaving Beatrice with the responsibility of raising Paul and his sister, Betty, who was two years older. The breakup of the family left Paul with a deep-seated feeling of resentment toward his father, who ignored his children and failed to make any financial contribution to their support.
Following her husband’s desertion, Zindel’s mother worked in a variety of jobs, supplementing her salary at times by stealing small items from her clients. Since many of these jobs were short-term practical nursing assignments, the family moved frequently. As a result, Zindel’s childhood was rootless and lonely. This loneliness was intensified when he developed tuberculosis at age fifteen and was forced to spend eighteen months in a sanatorium, where most of the patients were adults.
After his recovery and return to high school, Zindel, who had shown an interest in writing plays, entered a playwriting contest sponsored by the American Cancer Society. He was awarded a silver ballpoint pen for his drama about a pianist who recovers from a serious illness to play Frédéric Chopin’s Warsaw Concerto at Carnegie Hall.
During his senior year in high school, feeling what he called a “teenaged angst,” Zindel dropped out of school and traveled to Miami, Florida, where he tried unsuccessfully to find a job. After two weeks and the total exhaustion of his financial resources, Zindel returned to New York, where he finished high school in 1954, one year late. He then applied to five colleges, without any clear idea of what he wanted to do. He was accepted by several prestigious schools but decided to attend Wagner College on Staten Island, a move he believes was prompted by low self-esteem and social insecurity, legacies he attributes to his mother.
Zindel majored in chemistry at Wagner but maintained his interest in writing. He served as editor for the school newspaper and wrote an original play as his term paper for a continental drama course. During a visit to New York to cover a writers conference (an assignment he had given himself), Zindel came under the spell of Edward Albee, a playwright best known for his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962). Zindel signed up for a course...
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