David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays and short-stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was best known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 1923–2006).Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York to James Donald Wallace and Sally Foster Wallace. In his early childhood, Wallace lived in Champaign, Illinois. In fourth grade, he moved to Urbana and attended Yankee Ridge school. As an adolescent, Wallace was a regionally ranked junior tennis player.
He attended his father's alma mater, Amherst College, and majored in English and philosophy, with a focus on modal logic and mathematics. His philosophy senior thesis on modal logic, titled Richard Taylor's 'Fatalism' and the Semantics of Physical Modality (described in James Ryerson's 2008 New York Times essay "Consider the Philosopher") was awarded the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His other senior thesis, in English, would later become his first novel. Wallace graduated with summa cum laude honors for both theses in 1985, and in 1987 received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.
His father, James Wallace, having finished his graduate course work in philosophy at Cornell University, accepted a teaching job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 1962. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1963. His mother, Sally Foster Wallace, attended graduate school in English Composition at the University of Illinois and became a professor of English at Parkland College — a community college in Champaign — where she won a national Professor of the Year award in 1996. His younger sister, Amy Wallace Havens of Tucson, Arizona, has practiced law since 2005. Wallace married painter Karen L. Green on December 27, 2004. He had a close relationship with their two dogs, Bella and Warner.
In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace's father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. When he experienced severe side effects from the medication, Wallace attempted to wean himself from his primary antidepressant, Nardil. On his doctor's advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007, and the depression returned. Wallace received other treatments including electroconvulsive therapy. When he returned to Nardil, he found it had lost its effectiveness. In the months before his death, his depression became severe.Numerous gatherings were held to honor Wallace after his death, including memorial services at Pomona College, Amherst College, and on October 23, 2008, at NYU — the latter with speakers including his sister, Amy Wallace Havens; his agent, Bonnie Nadell; Gerry Howard, the editor of his first two books; Colin Harrison, editor at Harper's Magazine; Michael Pietsch, the editor of Infinite Jest and Wallace's later work; Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at The New Yorker; as well as authors Don DeLillo, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Mark Costello, Donald Antrim, and Jonathan Franzen
Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System, garnered national attention and critical praise. Caryn James of The New York Times called it a successful "manic, human, flawed extravaganza", "emerging straight from the excessive tradition of Stanley Elkin's Franchiser, Thomas Pynchon's V., John Irving's World According to Garp." Wallace moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to pursue graduate studies in philosophy at Harvard University, only later to abandon them. In 1991 he began teaching literature as an adjunct professor at Emerson College in Boston.
In 1992, at the behest of colleague and supporter Steven Moore, Wallace applied for and won a position in the English department at Illinois State University. He had begun work on his second novel, Infinite Jest, in 1991, and submitted a draft to his editor in December 1993. After the publication of excerpts throughout 1995, the book was published in 1996.
Wallace received the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1997. In 1997, Wallace was awarded the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction by editors of The Paris Review for one of the stories in Brief Interviews — "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #6" — which had appeared in the magazine.
In 2002, he moved to Claremont, California, to become the first Roy E. Disney Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona College. He taught one or two undergraduate courses per semester, and focused on his writing.Little, Brown and Company announced that it would publish the manuscript of an unfinished novel, entitled The Pale King, that Wallace was working on at the time of his death. An excerpt from the novel was published in the March 9, 2009 issue of The New Yorker
Wallace's fiction is often concerned with irony. His essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction", originally published in the small-circulation Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1993, proposes that television has an ironic influence on fiction writing, and urges literary authors to eschew irony. Wallace used many forms of irony, focusing on individuals' continued longing for earnest, unself-conscious experience, and communication in a media-saturated society.Wallace's novels often combine various writing modes or voices, and incorporate jargon and vocabulary (sometimes invented) from a wide variety of fields. His writing featured self-generated abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and a notable use of explanatory footnotes and endnotes — often nearly as expansive as the text proper. He used endnotes extensively in Infinite Jest and footnotes in "Octet" as well as in the great majority of his nonfiction after 1996. On the Charlie Rose show in 1997, Wallace claimed that the notes were used to disrupt the linearity of the narrative, to reflect his perception of reality without jumbling the entire structure. He suggested that he could have instead jumbled up the sentences, "but then no one would read it."