Biography of Don DeLillo (1936-)
Don DeLillo was born on Nov. 20, 1936, in New York City's borough of the Bronx, to Italian immigrants. DeLillo had little contact with literature until he was 18, when he describes being carried away by the power and beauty of language. He attended Fordham University in New York, but found the city a far more exciting playground, citing its access to experimental art, jazz, and movies (he describes French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard as the primary influence over his early work). He had a brief stint in the advertising world, and though he claims it was an uninteresting time of his life, his obsession with media and American culture may find its roots there, as well as in his immigrant background.
DeLillo's first novel, Americana (1971), traces these issues of media and culture through the travels of a television executive who tries to rediscover America through a film project. DeLillo delved into deeper questions of death, celebrity, cults, and consumerism in End Zone (1972), about a football player, and Great Jones Street (1973), about a reclusive rock star. His next series of books -- Ratner's Star (1976), Players (1977), Running Dog (1978), and Amazons (1980, written under the pen name Cleo Birdwell) -- all deal with highly specific fictional worlds. Ratner's Star, for instance, is about astronomy, and Amazons tells a woman's "true" memoirs of playing in the National Hockey League.
DeLillo moved to Greece for several years and wrote The Names (1982), largely set in Greece. When he returned to the U.S. and wrote White Noise in 1985, his work broke through to the mainstream, winning the National Book Award. Thereafter, DeLillo focused more intently on conspiracy and cults in Libra (1988) and Mao II (1991). His magnum opus, Underworld (1998), spans the latter half of the 20th-century and explores celebrity, consumerism, and waste. While many reviewers praised it, most readers could not finish the 827-page tome. DeLillo has also written two plays -- The Day Room (1986) and Valparaiso (1999), and he recently published the novellas The Body Artist (2001) and Pafko at the Wall (2001), released on the 50th-anniversary of New York Giant baseball player Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run against the Dodgers. The novella is an adaptation of the opening pages of Underworld, which tracks several people, famous and not, on that historic day.
DeLillo shows no signs of slowing in production or award-collecting, nor does his preference to remain reclusive seem to be as overpowering as it is for his major postmodern literary counterpart, Thomas Pynchon. Though some readers find his writing cold and abstract, DeLillo blends intellectualism with human characters and a dark sense of humor in ways few writers can, living or dead.