Wallace, David Foster.

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1962-02-21
Death 2008-09-12
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

David Foster Wallace was born February 2, 1962, in Ithaca, New York. His father, James Wallace, is a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois, and his mother, Sally Foster Wallace, is an instructor in English at Parkland College, a community college in Champaign, Illinois. Amy Wallace Havens, Wallace’s younger sister, practices law in Tucson, Arizona. Wallace married artist Karen Green in 2004.

As an adolescent, Wallace played football and was a regionally ranked tennis player, but his interest in writing and language was influenced by his parents, who read Ulysses out loud to each other. His father read Moby-Dick to Wallace and his sister when they were only eight and six years old, and his mother would playfully pretend to have a coughing fit if one of the children made a usage error during supper conversation.

Wallace graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College in 1985 with a double major in Philosophy and English. His philosophy senior thesis dealt with semantics and modal logic concerning Aristotle’s sea battle. His English senior thesis, around 700 pages and written in five months, turned into Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System (1987), which attracted positive attention and comparisons to the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Thomas Pynchon. At Amherst, Wallace served for a time as managing editor of Sabrina, The Humor Magazine of Amherst College, and upon graduation he accepted a fellowship in the writing program at the University of Arizona, where he graduated with an M.F.A. in 1987. While a graduate student, Wallace met Bonnie Nadell, a literary agent in San Francisco, who read an excerpt of The Broom of the System that Wallace had submitted to her agency. Nadell took on Wallace as a client, establishing a professional and personal relationship that lasted the rest of his life.

Wallace followed The Broom of the System with the collection of short stories Girl With Curious Hair (1988), and he next published a nonfiction work with co-author Mark Costello titled Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present (1990), which received a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1991. Infinite Jest (1996), a massive 1,079 page novel, cemented his reputation as a formidable literary figure. His other major works include A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997), Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), Up, Simba! (2000), Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (2003), Oblivion (2004), and Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays (2005). Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was adapted for film in 2009.

In addition to the shorter pieces in his collected works, Wallace authored dozens of stories, non-fiction articles, and book reviews for, among others, the Amherst Review, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Poetry in Review, Rolling Stone, Salon.com, the Village Voice, the Washington Post, and numerous anthologies. He was the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award in 1987; a Yaddo residency fellowship in 1987 and 1989; a John Traine Humor Prize in 1988 for Little Expressionless Animals ; a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1989; an Illinois Arts Council Award for Nonfiction in 1989 for Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young ; a Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award in Fiction in 1991 for Girl with Curious Hair ; a National Magazine Award finalist in 1995 for Ticket to the Fair and in 1997 for David Lynch Keeps His Head ; a Lannan Foundation Award for Literature in 1996 and 2000; and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1997-2002. He was named Outstanding University Researcher, Illinois State University, in 1998 and 1999.

Having suffered from anxiety attacks since his late teens, Wallace was diagnosed with clinical depression during his sophomore year at Amherst. He struggled with the condition for the rest of his life, and after a particularly rough period during which his usual medication was no longer effective, Wallace killed himself on September 12, 2008, at his home in California. His final, unfinished novel, The Pale King, is scheduled for publication in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company under the guidance of his long-time editor Michael Pietsch. Wallace worked at the Internal Revenue Service and took accounting classes in preparation for the novel, which focuses on the employees of an IRS office.

From the guide to the David Foster Wallace Papers, 1971-2008, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center)

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Subjects:

  • American literature--20th century
  • DeLillo, Don
  • Modernism (Literature)--United States
  • Authors, American--20th century

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