Wallace, David Foster 1962-2008

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Wallace, David Foster 1962-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born February 21, 1962, in Ithaca, NY; committed suicide by hanging, September 12, 2008, in Claremont, CA. Educator, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Wallace has been called one of the most gifted authors of his generation. At his best, he eluded the attempts of critics to place him in the company of his peers. To some, he seemed peerless. His muse was manic, hilarious, challenging, bizarre, and indisputably creative. Wallace jolted the literary world with his first novel, The Broom of the System (1987), a bizarre and playful romp through the "Great Ohio Desert" with Lenore Beadsman on her quest to find her ninety-two-year-old great-grandmother, Lenore Beadsman. The experimental novel of a woman's search for her own identity surprised critics with its ingenuity and energy.

The novel Infinite Jest revealed a future world full of characters so overdrawn that they appeared as caricatures of human diversity. All wound their way through the adventures of the Incandenza brothers, Hal and Orin, as they searched for the jest of the title—a rumored film so spectacular that whoever watches it might actually die of pleasure. The world of the Incandenzas is full of stories from a political and social landscape so surreal that only the most determined readers were likely to embrace the entire panorama. Wallace was as facile with the essay form as he was with fiction. Collections like A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997) and Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2006) were welcomed by readers and acclaimed by critics. Even Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (2003), his historical study of nineteenth-century German mathematician Georg Cantor, was called a pleasure to read. Wallace's writing was not for everyone. His fiction was long and complicated. His worlds were strange, and his language could be dense. Some critics emerged exhausted from their reading, and others began to doubt his gifts. Readers who persisted often felt rewarded beyond their expectations. Wallace had suffered for decades from a serious, barely treatable form of depression. Strong medication enabled him to work, teaching at Illinois State University beginning in 1993, and at Pomona College, where he was named the Roy Edward Disney Professor of Creative Writing in 2002. When the medication failed in 2008, and not even electro-convulsive therapy helped, Wallace suffered with little or no hope of relief. Within months, he succumbed to the ultimate, irreversible solution. Wallace's literary accomplishments were well rewarded in his lifetime. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 and two National Magazine Awards in 1995 and 1997. He received the Lannan Foundation Award for Literature in 1996 and 2000. In 1997 he was awarded the prized "genius grant": the fellowship of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Wallace's career showed great promise, if only he had found a survivable way to cast off the burden that crushed his spirit and silenced his voice.



Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2008, p. B11.

New York Times, September 15, 2008, p. A23.

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Wallace, David Foster 1962-2008

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