Don DeLillo was born on this day eighty one years ago.

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It’s the birthday of American novelist Don DeLillo , born in New York City (1936), best known for his intense explorations of politics, assassination, culture, and anxiety in books like White Noise (1985), Libra (1988), and Underworld (1997). DeLillo is notoriously private, doesn’t use email, and still writes his novels on a typewriter. 

The final draft of an early version of the book Underworld topped out at well over 1,000 pages, typewritten. When DeLillo was asked to describe his relationship with his readers, he answered, “Silence, exile, cunning, and so on” and famously used to carry a business card that read simply: “I do not want to talk about it.”

DeLillo grew up in the Bronx on a steady diet of billiards, sports, cards, and music. His father worked at Metropolitan Life Insurance and wore a suit and a tie to work every day. It wasn’t until DeLillo spent a summer parking cars that he began to love reading, and decided to become a writer. He says: “When I was 18, I got a summer job as a playground attendant — a parkie. And I was told to wear a white T-shirt and brown pants and brown shoes and a whistle around my neck — which they provided, the whistle. But I never acquired the rest of the outfit. I wore blue jeans and checkered shirts and kept the whistle in my pocket and just sat on a park bench disguised as an ordinary citizen. And this is where I read Faulkner, As I Lay Dying and Light in August. And got paid for it. And then James Joyce, and it was through Joyce that I learned to see something in language that carried a radiance, something that made me feel the beauty and fervor of words, the sense that a word has a life and a history.”

He worked for a long time as a copywriter at an ad agency called Ogilvy & Mather, and then one day he quit. He said: “I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore.” He holed up in small apartment in Manhattan and spent four years writing his first novel, Americana (1971), followed by several other books. They didn’t sell well, but he earned a devoted following. It wasn’t until White Noise (1985), about a professor named Jack Gladney, who teaches “Hitler Studies,” that he became a best-seller.

About writing, DeLillo says: “Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.”

When asked why he seemed reticent about his success, Don DeLillo answered: “Because I’m not Hemingway. I’m just a guy whose name can’t be spelled properly.”


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If you want to find out what a rock critic, a syndicated columnist, and scholars of American literature have to say about one of America’s most important contemporary novelists, turn to Introducing Don DeLillo. 

Placing the author’s work in a cultural context, this is the first book-length collection on DeLillo, adding considerably to the emerging critical discourse on his work.


Diversity is the key to this striking assemblage of cultural criticism edited by Frank Lentricchia. Special features include an expanded version of the Rolling Stone interview with the author (“An Outsider in this Society”) and the extraordinary tenth chapter of DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star. 

Accessibly written and entertaining, the collection will be of great interest to both students and scholars of contemporary American literature as well as to general readers interested in DeLillo’s work.


www.dukeupress.edu/introducing-don-delillo


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