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David Foster Wallace Dies at 46

George Lang Published: September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008 

CLAREMONT, Calif. (AP) — David Foster Wallace [1], the author best known for his 1996 novel “Infinite Jest,” [2] was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace’s wife [3] found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Wallace taught creative writing and English at nearby Pomona College [4].

“He cared deeply for his students and transformed the lives of many young people,” said Dean Gary Kates. “It’s a great loss to our teaching faculty.”

Wallace’s first novel, “The Broom of the System,” [5] gained national attention in 1987 for its ambition and offbeat humor. The New York Times said the 24-year-old author “attempts to give us a portrait, through a combination of Joycean [6] word games, literary parody and zany picaresque adventure, of a contemporary America run amok.”

Published in 1996, “Infinite Jest” [7] cemented Wallace’s reputation as a major American literary figure. The 1,000-plus-page tome, praised for its complexity and dark wit, topped many best-of lists. Time Magazine named “Infinite Jest” in its issue of the “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.”

Wallace received a “genius grant” [8] from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997.

In 2002, Wallace was hired to teach at Pomona in a tenured English Department position endowed by Roy E. Disney [9]. Kates said when the school began searching for the ideal candidate, Wallace was the first person considered.

“The committee said, ‘we need a person like David Foster Wallace.’ [10] They said that in the abstract,” Kates said. “When he was approached and accepted, they were heads over heels. He was really the ideal person for the position.”

Wallace’s short fiction was published in Esquire [11], GQ, Harper’s, The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Collections of his short stories were published as “Girl With Curious Hair” and “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.”

He wrote nonfiction for several publications, including an essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine and a profile of the director David Lynch [12] for Premiere.

Born in Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace attended Amherst College and the University of Arizona.

1. Arguably the most important and occasionally impenetrable literary voice of the late 20th and early 21st century.

2. My greatest failure as a reader is the degree to which “Infinite Jest” clobbered me. I’ve attempted to read it three times, and yet it still sits on the shelf, taunting with its heft and level of difficulty.

3. Karen Green.

4. Pomona College is a private liberal arts college 33 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in Claremont, Calif. Each year, Pomona College hosts “Ski-Beach Day,” in which the school buses its students to a resort in the Sierras that morning for snow skiing, then takes them to the beach in the afternoon for fun in the sun.

5. Michiko Kakutani, the notoriously difficult-to-please New York Times literary critic, called “Broom of the System” “an unwieldy, uneven work — by turns, hilarious and
stultifying, daring and derivative — but at the same time, it’s a novel that attests to the publishers’s committment to risky new fiction and its young author’s rich reserves of ambition and imagination,” which is as fine an assessment of Wallace’s total creative output as one might find.

6. I don’t know if I would call it Joycean, except that Wallace was similarly challenging. But as a writer, I’ve always admired and frankly copied Wallace’s dexterity with combining high and low culture and wordsmithing. In Wallace’s prose, juxtoposing the sacred and the profane caused each opposite to appear all the more extreme.

7. And it continues to sit there, mocking me. However, in honor of Wallace, I’ll likely start reading it after I complete Chuck Palahniuk’s “Rant,” which is a complex narrative comprised of dozens of first-person accounts on the life of a man who starts a rabies epidemic in a dystopian future. In short, it’s good training for another run at “Infinite Jest.”

8. Others include Cormac McCarthy, John Sayles, Bill “Mr. Noodle” Irwin, Harold Bloom, drummer Max Roach, Thomas Pynchon (another author to whom Wallace is often compared), Errol Morris, Susan Sontag, Julie Taymor, Twyla Tharp, Stanley Crouch, Allison Anders, Anna Deavere Smith, World Wide Web protocol developer Tim Berners-Lee, Colson Whitehead, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits [13], Jonathan Lethem and John Zorn.

9. The nephew of Walt Disney, Roy Disney helped lead the putsch against Michael Eisner with his “Save Disney” campaign, 2003-2005.

10. Who was, believe it or not, often discussed as part of the late-80s “brat pack” of authors including Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Jill Eisenstadt and Tama Janowitz, but only because he was a young rising star at the time. They talked about Michael Chabon the same way, and he didn’t deserve to be lumped in with those knuckleheads, either.

11. In the October issue of Esquire, Chuck Klosterman wrote an extraordinarily entertaining and somewhat disturbing piece of speculative fiction titled “A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.” I highly recommend reading it, if only to know how 8 billion of us end up living on the moon and subsisting on cloned chicken.

12. Whose most recent project was an ad campaign for Gucci.

13. Only kidding.

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