Old School Background

Old School Background

Tobias Wolff is an American author born on June 19, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating high school, he attended Hertford College to study English and later enrolled at Stanford University to obtain his M.A. Afterward, Wolff ventured into the literary spotlight by writing short stories. His first published piece was a short story collection entitled In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981). He then wrote two memoirs that detailed his life as a teenager and young adult. This Boy’s Life (1989) deals with Wolff’s childhood with an abusive father and In Pharaoh’s Army (1994) is an account of his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He has also published a few fiction novels throughout his career, one of which is Old School.

Old School tells the story of a boy who attends an elite New England prep school in the 1960s. The narrator is competing in a writing contest in which the winner is awarded an interview with an acclaimed author. The frenzy of competition infects the school climate, and all the students crave victory. This novel addresses themes of class consciousness, the prevalence of plagiarism, and racial boundaries all in the context of a single prep school.

Upon its publication, Old School received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Prize for Fiction, the Faulkner Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Many praise Wolff for his unique perspective on a setting that is heavily portrayed in literature. Blake Morrison of The Guardian states that “instead of the usual caricatures - bullying, zits, chalk dust, inkwells and farting - there's a subtle portrait of a complex community with its unwritten codes of honour and truth.”

Since Old School, Tobias Wolff has not been as prolific in his writing, but he published one more collection entitled Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories in 2008.

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