Paul Auster - 1947-2024

We are sad to learn of the death of Paul Auster.

The New York Times reports that “the prolific novelist, memoirist and screenwriter who rose to fame in the 1980s with his postmodern reanimation of the noir novel and who endured to become one of the signature New York writers of his generation, died of complications from lung cancer at his home in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening. He was 77.

The obituary’s headline describes Auster as the “Patron Saint of Literary Brooklyn” – and he was, as author and poet Meghan O’Rourke explained: “Paul Auster was the Brooklyn novelist back in the ’80s and ’90s, when I was growing up there, at a time when very few famous writers lived in the borough. His books were on all my parents’ friends’ shelves. As teenagers, my friends and I read Auster’s work avidly for both its strangeness—that touch of European surrealism—and its closeness.

But, as O’Rourke suggests, Auster’s style and erudition were not local but global. The AP’s Hillel Italie observed: “He was widely admired overseas for his cosmopolitan worldview and erudite and introspective style and was named a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1991. He was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Called the “dean of American post-modernists” and “the most meta of American meta-fictional writers,” Auster blended history, politics, genre experiments, existential quests and self-conscious references to writers and writing.”

The Times notes that “his novels include critically acclaimed works like “Moon Palace (1989), about the odyssey of an orphan college student who receives a bequest of thousands of books; Leviathan (1992), about a writer investigating the death of a friend who blew himself up while building a bomb; and The Book of Illusions (2002), about a biographer exploring the mysterious disappearance of his subject, a silent-screen star. Among his memoirs are Hand to Mouth(1997), about his early struggles as a writer, and Winter Journal (2012), which, while written in the second person, was an examination of the frailties of his aging body.”

His other works included the novels The Brooklyn Follies (2005), Sunset Park (2010) and 4 3 2 1 (2017); books of poems, including Collected Poems (2007); screenplays; a biography, Burning Boy: The Life and Works of Stephen Crane (2021), and works of essays and memoirs including his first book, The Invention of Solitude (1982), and Report from the Interior (2013). He married the writer Siri Hustvedt on Bloom’s Day in 1982.

On the writing life, he once observed: “Only a person who really felt compelled to do it would shut himself up in a room every day … When I think about the alternatives – how beautiful life can be, how interestingI think it’s a crazy way to live your life.” (See the Guardian’s collection of Auster quotes here).

It is cliché but true: literature offers a form of immortality. Auster is dead but his insight, humor and spirit live on – inside you and me, in fact, every time we read one of his books. If you haven’t read Auster – or read him in a while – we highly recommend The New York Trilogy (1987), which is truly a modern classic.

Paul Auster’s Top Ten List

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605, 1615)
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
5. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27)
6. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
7. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
8. The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
9. Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, a trilogy by Samuel Beckett (1951–54)
10. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67)