Dramaturgical Resources: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Over the course of the season, our Assistant Directors and student Dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.

We hope you find these resources of interest.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace (1962 - 2008)

TEXT
David Foster Wallace, the American novelist, essayist and teacher, has been hailed as one of the most original and innovative writers of his generation. Born in 1962, he grew up in Philo, Illinois as the son of two college professors. He studied English and Philosophy at Amherst College before going on to acquire an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, which set the stage for his first book, The Broom of the System, which was published in 1987. He worked as a professor at both Illinois State University and Pomona College. During his time at ISU, he produced one of his best-known works, the 1000-page novel Infinite Jest. This futuristic book follows several different plot lines, and exemplifies Wallace’s trademark pages-long endnotes and made-up acronyms, as well as his branching prose style. Many of his shorter pieces have appeared in various magazines and journals, most notably Harper’s Magazine (Various essays, including Everything is Green, Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern Boyhood, Rabbit Resurrected, The Awakening of My Interest in Annular Systems, Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again); The Depressed Person, Laughing with Kafka, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the War over Usage and The Compliance Branch), The Paris Review, and The New Yorker (The Unfinished). His short story collections include Girl With Curious Hair (1989), Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), and Oblivion (2004).

He was a profuse essay writer as well, generating collections such as A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (for the essay, Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley), Consider the Lobster, This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life, a book outlining the commencement address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005, and the longer essay Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity and here.

He received a Whiting Writers Award (1987), a Lannan Literary Award (1996), a Salon Book Award (1996), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction (1997), and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship (1997–2002).

Wallace suffered for most of his adult life from depression and anxiety, and in the last year of his life, when he tried to go off his medication, he succumbed to "a cancer of the soul," said one his sister, Amy Wallace Havens. He tragically committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46, while working on his novel The Pale King (read the excerpt entitled All That; and here's another excerpt, entitled Wiggle Room. The unfinished book will be published this fall by Little, Brown and Company. .

MEMORIES OF WALLACE
Jonathan Franzen said he and Wallace, over years of letters and conversations about the ethical role of the novelist, had come to the joint conclusion that the purpose of writing fiction was “a way out of loneliness.” He said Wallace was most comfortable in his skin and best able to relate to others when he was doing his best work. “You could smell the ozone from the crackling precision of his sentence structure,” Franzen said. Wallace's writing, Franzen said, was “as true and safe and happy a home as he had in the 20 years that I knew him.”

Don DeLillo, whom the author had spoken of as a huge influence and, in his letters, a great support, praised the author for sentences that “shoot rays of energy in seven directions.” He called Infinite Jest a "three-stage rocket to the future" and said Wallace was a great writer, a “brave writer.” His death is a story of “youth and loss,” his writing one of hope for “another world.”

Zadie Smith, another friend of Wallace’s, suggested that, for him, the “big distinction between good art and so-so art” was heart; to give love, not just create from the part that wants to be loved.

STYLE
Wallace’s writing is characterized by its intensity, satiric irony, and complexity in both structure and content. Infinite Jest, as well as many of his short stories and essays, is marked by endnotes, footnotes and sub-footnotes which take up a significant part of the text. His style ranges from the practical tone of essays that inspired Harper’s to send him on a luxury cruise just to see what he would make of it to the eloquence of his short stories, such as Forever Overhead. The use of metafiction also comes up repeatedly in his work, especially Infinite Jest but also in the short story Octet, in which it becomes almost a meta-meta-fiction where he places the reader in the author’s place.

Here's a stylistic review of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and an NPR article on his writing style. For a a comprehensive review of some of his works, look here.

REVIEWS OF BRIEF INTERVIEWS
from The New York Times
from Salon.com
from Powell’s
and from Mark Flanagan

OTHER LINKS
Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, is an interview/story written by David Lipsky, writer for the magazine, who traveled with Wallace for five days on his tour shortly before his death (and here's an interview with David Lipsky about the event).
Part 1 of the Charlie Rose Interview (other parts are available through this link)
Transcript of The Minnesota Daily interview
The Wisconsin State Journal interview and article
The interview with Tom Laskin for Isthmus
The Believer interview
An audio file from Wallace’s memorial service at Amherst and corresponding article
A memorial article written by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a colleague of Wallace's from Pomona College
The Wallace archive at the University of Texas

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