David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York in February of 1962 to parents Sally Foster and James Wallace. He spent his early childhood and adolescent years in Illinois and was regionally ranked as a junior tennis player in his teens. Wallace’s parents were both professors and when it came time to go to college, David attended his father’s alma mater, Amherst College, majoring in English and Philosophy. At college, Wallace took part in a slew of extra-curricular activities and was even known for having a nice singing voice. He went onto graduate summa cum laude, while his thesis in Philosophy won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His other honors thesis, for English, went on to be his first published book, The Broom of the System.
“There is no hatred in my love for you, only a sadness I feel all the more strongly for my inability to explain or describe it.” David Foster Wallace writes these words in The Broom of the System, his thesis turned novel about a 24-year-old woman’s life crises as a telephone switchboard operator. The author was also 24 when he published the book and at one point revealed in an interview that the story was semi-autobiographical, stemming from his experience of a mid-life crisis as he switched from math as a focus to literature and fiction. The New York Times describes the novel as “Daring, hilarious… a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok.”
The author tackles a similar existential crisis in his book, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity:
Wallace and infinity: wonderful pairing! This is the most exquisitely (and hilariously) original science writing. Wallace embraces the incompatibility of mathematics and prose and makes art from it. And it’s a great story too. (James Gleick)
In Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, the author compares the Mentally Ill Mathematician to the Mad Scientist and Tortured Artist archetypes. As many writers do, Wallace suffered his own mental and emotional ailments throughout his life. After David Foster Wallace’s suicide at age 46 in 2008, his father revealed that he had been struggling with depression for at least 20 years.
As a novelist and essayist, David Foster Wallace was known for his humor, intelligence, and unconventional style of letting a story unfold. In the transcripts of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, he tackles the raw topic of unconventional sexuality. The book won him the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, awarded to him by the editors of The Paris Review in the late 90s. Throughout the years leading up to 2009, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men has been adapted on the stage and in film, the latter starring Julianne Nicholson as Sara, the interviewer.
Girl with Curious Hair, another beloved collection of Wallace’s, includes non-related short stories about various quirky characters grappling with modern-day struggles of the 1990s. Though the characters are meant to be fictional, many of them are based on real people, including Lyndon Johnson, David Letterman, and Alex Trebek. The collection altogether is said to be a work of metafiction and postmodernism, and is popular for its many contemporary topics such as drugs, punk rock, sex and sexuality, the media, politics, religion, and fame obsession.
Other available first edition works by David Foster Wallace include: Consider the Lobster: and Other Essays; Prize Stories 1989: The O. Henry Awards; The Missouri Review: Signifying Rappers, Volume XIII, Number 2, and McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope.