Wallace, David Foster

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Wallace, David Foster

David Foster Wallace, 1962–2008, American writer, b. Ithaca, N.Y., grad. Amherst College (B.A., 1985), Univ. of Arizona (M.F.A., 1987). He published his comic first novel, The Broom of the System (1987), to excellent reviews, but it was his next (and last complete) novel, Infinite Jest (1996), that brought him wide notice, literary acclaim, and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" (1997). A vast, exuberant, and complicated work in the tradition of Pynchon and DeLillo that is both funny and sad, serious and ironic, it portrays a fractured contemporary American society obsessed with entertainment and pleasure. Wallace also wrote short stories, such as those in Girl with Curious Hair (1989) and Oblivion (2004); essays, such as those in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997), Consider the Lobster (2005), and the posthumously published Both Flesh and Not (2012); and nonfiction, such as Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (2003). He taught writing at Illinois State Univ. and Pomona College. Severely depressed at various times during his life, he committed suicide at 46. The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel (2011), with several completed chapters and selections from his working materials, is an elegiac and despairing, yet often hilarious work, filled with digressions and asides but mainly about a Midwestern IRS office, boredom, and the complexities and bureaucracies of American life.

See David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (2012) and S. J. Burn, ed., Conversations with David Foster Wallace (2012); D. Lipsky, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (2010); biography by D. T. Max (2012); studies by M. Boswell (2003) and S. Burn (2003); S. Cohen and L. Konstantinou, ed., The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (2012).

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