Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo Biography

Author (1936–)
Don DeLillo is a novelist whose postmodernist works portray an America consumed by material excess and stupefied by empty mass culture and politics.


Born on November 20, 1936, in the Bronx, New York, Don DeLillo's first novel was Americana (1971), but with 1977's Players, DeLillo's vision turned darker, and critics found little to like in the novel's protagonists but much to admire in DeLillo's prose. White Noise (1985) won the National Book Award for fiction, and Libra was much discussed, presenting a fictional portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald leading up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. DeLillo's later works include Underworld, Point Omega and Falling Man.

Early Years

Don DeLillo was born on November 20, 1936, in the Bronx, New York, and was raised in the Italian-American neighborhood of Fordham. DeLillo grew up on a steady diet of sports, cards and billiards, and didn't become interested in writing until his late teens, when he delved into reading to pass time at a summer job parking cars.

DeLillo attended Cardinal Hayes High School and headed to Fordham University after graduation, majoring in communication arts. Although he wanted a job in publishing following his graduation from Fordham (1958), DeLillo couldn't find one, so he went into advertising instead. He worked as a copywriter while crafting short stories on the side, and his first story, "The River Jordan," was published two years later in Epoch, the literary magazine of Cornell University.

Completely uninterested in his day job, DeLillo quit it in 1964, though not to pursue writing: "I didn't quit my job to write fiction," he later explained. "I just didn't want to work anymore."

The Novelist

DeLillo began writing his first novel, Americana, in 1966, having to stop continually throughout the process to take on freelance writing jobs in order to pay his rent. The book was published in 1971, and finishing it unleashed a torrent of creativity in DeLillo.

He wrote six novels in the 1970s, among them End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street (1973) and Ratner's Star (1976), all of which are set in vastly different worlds. The books impressed intellectuals and academics, but had little impact on the reading public. The '70s also saw DeLillo get married (1975) and receive a Guggenheim Fellowship (1978).

DeLillo soon moved to Greece, where he and his wife, landscape architect Barbara Bennett, lived for three years while exploring the entire region. The novel The Names (1982), set almost entirely in Greece, emerged from this period, but it would be DeLillo's next work that would finally push him into the literary spotlight.

'White Noise'

DeLillo's eighth novel, White Noise, was an instant success, garnering him vast recognition as an important novelist of his time. It also won him the National Book Award.

The books that followed would only bolster his reputation, as Libra (1988), Mao II (1991) and Underworld (1998) would cement his reputation. Underworld, especially, would draw acclaim, earning the author a National Book Award nomination and landing at No. 2 on The New York Times' 2006 list of "The Best Books of the Last 25 Years," only behind Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Recent Works and Awards

Since Underworld, DeLillo has been quietly productive, releasing The Body Artist (2001), Cosmopolis (2003), Falling Man (2007) and Point Omega (2010). He published The Angel Esmeralda, a collection of short stories, in 2011.

Don DeLillo has been nominated for or won countless literary awards, among them the PEN/Faulkner Award (1992; Mao II), the Pulitzer Prize (nominated, 1998; Underworld), the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction (2010) and the inaugural Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction (2013).

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