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Paul Auster, Prolific Author and Brooklyn Literary Star, Dies at 77

Paul Auster, the prolific novelist, memoirist and screenwriter who became famous in the 1980s with his postmodern resuscitation of the noir novel and who went on to become one of the iconic New York writers of his generation, has died of cancer of the lung at home. in Brooklyn Tuesday evening. He was 77 years old.

His death was confirmed by a friend, Jacki Lyden.

With his hooded eyes, soulful demeanor and leadership demeanor, Mr. Auster was often described as a “literary superstar” in the media. Britain’s Times Literary Supplement once called him “one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers.”

Although a New Jersey native, he became indelibly linked to the rhythms of his adopted city, which was a sort of character in much of his work – particularly Brooklyn, where he moved in 1980 amid the Oak-lined brownstone streets of Park Slope. neighborhood.

As his reputation grew, Mr. Auster became seen as a guardian of Brooklyn’s rich literary past, as well as an inspiration to a new generation of novelists who flocked to the borough in the 1990s. 1990 and later.

“Paul Auster was THE Brooklyn novelist in the ’80s and ’90s, when I grew up there, at a time when very few famous writers lived in the borough,” wrote author and poet Meghan O’Rourke, who grew up in near Prospect Heights. in an email. “His books were on the shelves of all my parents’ friends. As teenagers, my friends and I read Auster’s work avidly both for its strangeness – that touch of European surrealism – and for its proximity.

“Long before Brooklyn became a place where every novelist seemed to live, from Colson Whitehead to Jhumpa Lahiri,” she added, “Auster made it seem like being a writer was something real, something that ‘a person actually did.’

His reputation, however, was not local. In France alone, he has won several literary prizes. Like Woody Allen and Mickey Rourke, Mr. Auster, who had lived in Paris as a youth, became one of those rare American imports to be adopted by the French as a native son.

“The first thing you hear when you approach reading Auster, anywhere in the world, is French,” observed New York magazine in 2007. “Simply a successful author in these parts, Auster is a rock star in Paris. »

In Britain, his 2017 novel, “4321,” which examined four parallel versions of its protagonist’s early life — as was Mr. Auster, a Jewish boy born in Newark in 1947 — was selected for the Man Booker Prize.

His career began to take off in 1982, with his memoir “The Invention of Solitude,” a haunting reflection on his distant relationship with his recently deceased father. His first novel, “City of Glass,” was rejected by 17 publishers before being published by a small California press in 1985.

The book became the first part of his most famous work, “The New York Trilogy”, three novels later collected into a single volume. It was listed as one of the 25 most important New York novels of the last 100 years in a roundup by T, the style magazine published by The New York Times.

“City of Glass” is the story of a crime writer who is reeling from a personal loss — a pervasive theme in Mr. Auster’s work — and who, because of a wrong number, is caught for a private detective named, yes, Paul Auster. . The writer begins to assume the identity of the detective, losing himself in his own detective work while descending into madness.

In a way, the book was a classic shamus tale. But Mr. Auster chafed at being limited by genre. “You could also say that ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a detective novel, I suppose,” he said in his 2017 book, “A Life in Words,” a self-analysis of his own work.

With its fractured narrative, unreliable narrator, and deconstruction of identity, its approach sometimes seemed ripe for analysis in college literary theory classes.

“Auster played brilliantly throughout his career in the game of literary postmodernism, but with a simplicity of language that could have come out of a detective novel,” said Will Blythe, the author and former literary editor of Esquire , in an email. “He seemed to regard life itself as a fiction, in which everyone evolves in exactly the same way as a writer creates a character.”

As Mr. Auster says in “A Life in Words,” “Most writers are perfectly content with traditional literary models and happy to produce works which they judge to be beautiful, true and good.”

He added: “I have always wanted to write what is for me beautiful, true and good, but I also want to invent new ways of telling stories. I wanted to turn everything upside down.

While for some critics such experimentalism is reminiscent of Jacques Derrida’s approach to deconstruction, Mr. Auster often describes himself as a throwback who preferred Emily Brontë to the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, as he said in an interview with in 2009 to the British newspaper The Independent.

He avoided computers, often writing with a fountain pen in his beloved notebooks.

“Keyboards have always intimidated me,” he told The Paris Review in 2003.

“A pen is a much more primitive instrument,” he said. “You feel the words coming out of your body, and then you put them onto the page. Writing has always had this tactile quality for me. It’s a physical experience.

He then turned to his vintage Olympia typewriter to type his manuscripts. He immortalized the trusty machine in his 2002 book “The Story of My Typewriter,” with illustrations by painter Sam Messer.

Such antiquarian methods have in no way slowed down Mr. Auster’s breathtaking production. Writing six hours a day, often seven days a week, he published a new book almost every year for years. He ultimately published 34 books, representing shorter works that were later incorporated into larger books, including 18 acclaimed novels and several memoirs and various autobiographical works, as well as plays, screenplays, and story collections , essays and poems.

His novels include such critically acclaimed works as “Moon Palace” (1989), about the odyssey of an orphaned student who receives an inheritance of thousands of books; “Leviathan” (1992), about a writer investigating the death of a friend who blew himself up while making a bomb; and “The Book of Illusions” (2002), about a biographer exploring the mysterious disappearance of his subject, a silent film star.

His memoirs include “Hand to Mouth” (1997), about his early struggles as a writer, and “Winter Journal” (2012), which, although written in the second person, was an examination of the frailties of his aging body.

By the 1990s, Mr. Auster had set his sights on Hollywood. He has written several screenplays, some of which he directed.

“Smoke” (1995), directed by Wayne Wang from a screenplay by Mr. Auster, was based on a Christmas story by the author published in The Times. He draws deep inspiration from his life in Park Slope, where he shared a brick house with his wife, the novelist Siri Hustvedt.

The film, loaded with philosophical musings, stars Harvey Keitel as Auggie, the owner of a Park Slope tobacco store that is home to a colorful assortment of dreamers and neighborhood eccentrics. One is Paul Benjamin (Mr. Auster’s first pen name; Benjamin was his middle name), a cerebral, cigarette-smoking writer (William Hurt) whose life is saved when a young man (Harold Perrineau) pulls out of the way of a truck. .

That same year, Mr. Auster, with Mr. Wang, made a loose-limbed comedy sequel, “Blue in the Face,” peppered with cameos from a host of stars, including Lou Reed musing on cigarettes, on Long Island and au The Brooklyn Dodgers and Madonna deliver a singing and naughty telegram.

Mr. Auster then wrote and directed “Lulu on the Bridge” (1998), about a jazz saxophonist (Mr. Keitel) whose life takes a turn when he is hit by a stray bullet in a New York club; and “The Inner Life of Martin Frost” (2007), about an author (David Thewlis) who retreats to a friend’s country house for more solitude, only to become fascinated by a young woman (Irene Jacob). .

In a way, his detour into cinema was the culmination of a dream he had in his youth. In his early 20s, Mr. Auster had considered going to film school in Paris, as he told director Wim Wenders in 2017 in Interview magazine.

“The reason I didn’t pursue it was, basically, I was grotesquely shy at that point in my life,” he said. “I had such a hard time speaking in front of a group of more than two or three people that I thought, ‘How can I make a film if I can’t speak in front of other people?’

Paul Benjamin Auster was born February 3, 1947, in Newark, the eldest of two children of Samuel and Queenie (Bogat) Auster. His father was a landowner who owned buildings in Jersey City with his brothers.

Paul grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, and then nearby Maplewood, but his home was not a happy one, he wrote. Her parents’ marriage was strained and her relationship with her father distant. “It was not that I felt that he did not love me,” Mr. Auster wrote in “The Invention of Solitude.” “It was just that he seemed distracted, unable to look in my direction.”

He took refuge in baseball, a lifelong passion, as well as in books. “When I was 9 or 10,” he told the Times in 2017, “my grandmother gave me a six-volume collection of Robert Louis Stevenson books, which inspired me to start writing stories beginning with scintillating sentences like this: ‘In the year of our Lord 1751, I found myself staggering blindly through a violent snowstorm, trying to return to my ancestral home.

After graduating from Columbia High School in Maplewood, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he participated in the 1968 student uprising and met his first wife, the writer Lydia Davis, who was a student at Barnard.

Eleon

With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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