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Today in Literature

November 20, 2009

20 November 1936:  American author Don DeLillo was born in the Bronx in New York City.  DeLillo is regarded as one of America’s best living authors and is, perhaps, the most studied late-20th century author.  To get a bit more personal, DeLillo is currently my favorite author and I’ve been lucky enough to read most (unfortunately not all) of his works–even the pseudonymous one.

DeLillo attended Fordham University and after graduating worked for several years in advertising after finding difficulty securing a job in the publishing industry.  Before publishing his first novel, DeLillo quit his job in advertising later saying:

I quit my job just to quit. I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore. (NYT)

Lucky for him, he published his first novel, Americana, in 1971 and hasn’t slowed since then.  He has published sixteen novels (including Amazons under the pseudonym Cleo Birdwell and Point Omega which is set for release on 2 Feb. 2010), four plays, a screenplay, and numerous essays and short stories.

Though he has ventured into extraordinary and extreme areas of life, DeLillo’s best fiction centers on the quotidian normality of American life.  White Noise, his most frequently taught work, covers the life of Jack Gladney–a rather ordinary professor of Hitler Studies (a fictional but not implausible area of study) at a rather ordinary liberal arts college–and the way he manages a minor crisis.  His 1988 novel Libra is a fictionalized biography is Lee Harvey Oswald that, for me, is his best accessable piece of fiction and Underworld–published in 1997 attempts to anthologize the weltanschauung of the Cold War in America from its escalation in the 1950s through its effects in the mid 1990s.  His most recent novel, Falling Man, is a surprisingly touching account of one (fictional) man’s experience during and after the attacks of 11 September 2001.  As a native New Yorker, DeLillo takes the issue personally and, with Libra and Underworld, sufficiently deals with every major event in his lifetime.

Yearly, his name is among those who were slighted by the Nobel committee for being American (along with Roth, Pynchon, and Oates), though perhaps that is just wishful thinking.

So happy birthday Don DeLillo. To celebrate, on lunch I’ll be reading more of Americana, listening to The Airborne Toxic Event, and feeding my healthy fear of death.

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