The 'Most Meta of American Meta-Fictional Writers' Has Died

Paul Auster of the 'New York Trilogy' was 77
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 1, 2024 8:11 AM CDT
US Author Who Was a 'Rock Star in Paris' Has Died
Writer Paul Auster poses at his home in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Jan. 19, 2006.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Paul Auster, a prolific, prize-winning author of more than 30 books—among them his "New York Trilogy"—has died at age 77. His Tuesday death was attributed to complications from lung cancer, friend Jacki Lyden tells the Guardian. A longtime fixture in the Brooklyn literary scene, he never achieved major commercial success in the US, reports the AP, but he was widely admired overseas. Indeed, the Guardian flags this line from a 2007 New York magazine article: "Merely a bestselling author in these parts, Auster is a rock star in Paris" and was named a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1991.

After graduating from Columbia University, Auster struggled for years before he was able to find a publisher or earn money from his books. He wrote poetry, translated French literature, worked on an oil tanker, attempted to market a baseball board game, and even thought of earning income by growing worms in his basement. He went on to be 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 "New York Trilogy," which included City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room, was a postmodern detective saga in which names and identities blur and one protagonist is a private eye named Paul Auster. The author's longest and most ambitious work of fiction was 4 3 2 1, published in 2017 and a Booker finalist. The 800-plus page novel is a tale of quadraphonic realism in the post World War II era, the parallel journeys of Archibald Isaac Ferguson from summer camp and high school baseball to student life in New York and Paris during the mass protests of the late 1960s.

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His other works included the nonfiction compilations Groundwork and Talking to Strangers; a family memoir, The Invention of Solitude; a biography of novelist Stephen Crane; the novels Leviathan and Moon Palace and the poetry collection White Space. In his most recent novel, Baumgardner, the title character is a widowed professor haunted by mortality and asking himself "where his mind will be taking him next." Auster was so much the old-fashioned author that he worked on a typewriter and disdained email and other forms of electronic communication. But he did have an unusually active film career compared to his writing peers. (Read much more on that here.)

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