Readerz.Net / Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Kent Eugenides (born March 8, 1960) is an American novelist and short story writer. He has written numerous short stories and essays, as well as three novels: The Virgin Suicides (1993), Middlesex (2002), and The Marriage Plot (2011). The Virgin Suicides served as the basis of a feature film, while Middlesex received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in addition to being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Médicis.
Eugenides was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a father of Greek descent and a mother of English and Irish ancestry. He attended Grosse Pointe's private University Liggett School and attended Brown University (where he became friends with contemporary Rick Moody), graduating in 1982 after taking a year off to travel across Europe and to volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. Of his decision to study at Brown, Eugenides later remarked "I chose Brown largely in order to study with John Hawkes, whose work I admired. I entered the honors program in English, which forced me to study the entire English tradition, beginning with Beowulf. I felt that since I was going to try to add to the tradition, I had better know something about it." He later earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Stanford University.
Eugenides knew he wanted to be a writer from a relatively early age, stating "I decided very early; during my junior year of high school. We read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that year, and it had a big effect on me, for reasons that seem quite amusing to me now. I'm half Irish and half Greek—my mother's family were Kentuckians, Southern hillbillies, and my paternal grandparents immigrants from Asia Minor—and, for that reason, I identified with Stephen Dedalus. Like me, he was bookish, good at academics, and possessed an “absurd name, an ancient Greek.” [...] I do remember thinking [...] that to be a writer was the best thing a person could be. It seemed to promise maximum alertness to life. It seemed holy to me, and almost religious." Of his earliest literary influences, Eugenides has cited "[...] the great modernists. Joyce, Proust, Faulkner. From these I went on to discover Musil, Woolf, and others, and soon my friends and I were reading Pynchon and John Barth. My generation grew up backward. We were weaned on experimental writing before ever reading much of the nineteenth-century literature the modernists and postmodernists were reacting against."
Eugenides was raised in Detroit, Michigan and cites the influence of the city and his high-school experiences on his writings. He has said that he has "a perverse love" of his birthplace. "I think most of the major elements of American history are exemplified in Detroit, from the triumph of the automobile and the assembly line to the blight of racism, not to mention the music, Motown, the MC5, house, techno." He also says he has been haunted by the decline of Detroit.
In 1986, he received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship for his story "Here Comes Winston, Full of the Holy Spirit." After living a few years in San Francisco, he moved to Brooklyn, New York and worked as secretary for the Academy of American Poets. While in New York he made friends with numerous similarly struggling writers, including Jonathan Franzen.
From 1999 to 2004, Eugenides lived in Berlin, Germany, where he moved after being awarded a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service to write in Berlin for a year. Eugenides has lived in Princeton, New Jersey, since the fall of 2007, when Eugenides joined the faculty of Princeton University's Program in Creative Writing.
Eugenides is now based, with his ex-wife and child, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he is Professor of Creative Writing in the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts. Of teaching creative writing, Eugenides remarked in an interview in The Paris Review, "I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you're writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you'll never dumb things down. You won't have to explain things that don't need explaining. You'll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don't wish to be condescended to. I think about the reader. I care about the reader. Not “audience.” Not “readership.” Just the reader."
The Virgin Suicides
Eugenides' 1993 novel, The Virgin Suicides, has been translated into 34 languages. In 1999, the novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film directed by Sofia Coppola. Set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the novel follows the lives and deaths by suicide of five sisters over the course of an increasingly isolated year, as told from the point of view of the neighborhood boys who obsessively watch them.
Eugenides also published short stories in the near decade between The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, primarily in The New Yorker. His 1996 story "Baster" became the basis for the 2010 romantic comedy The Switch, temporarily putting Middlesex aside in the late 90s to begin work on a novel that would eventually serve as the basis for his third. Two excerpts of what became Eugenides's work-in-progress third novel after Middlesex also appeared in The New Yorker in 2011, "Asleep in the Lord" and "Extreme Solitude." Eugenides also served as the editor of the collection of short stories titled My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead. The proceeds of the collection go to the writing center 826 Chicago, established to encourage young people's writing.
His 2002 novel, Middlesex, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in addition to being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Médicis. Following the life and self-discovery of Calliope Stephanides, or later, Cal, an intersex person raised a girl, but genetically a boy, Middlesex also broadly deals with the Greek-American immigrant experience in the United States, the rise and fall of Detroit, and explores the experience of an intersex person in the U.S.A.
The Marriage Plot
After a nine-year hiatus, Eugenides published his third novel, The Marriage Plot, in October 2011. The novel follows three young adults enmeshed in a love triangle, as they graduate from Brown University and establish themselves in the world. Eugenides is currently at work developing a television screenplay of the novel, which was a finalist of the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2011; a New York Times notable book for 2011; and one of the top books of the year according to lists made by Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The Telegraph.
Eugenides has revealed that his next literary project will be a book of short stories "[...] which will be a very mixed bag of stories, quite different, not all arranged around a certain theme". This collection was published in 2017, and is titled Fresh Complaint.
He has an idea for a fourth novel: "I have an idea; I don't know if it's going to work. But it's going to be a larger canvas, many more characters than in [The Marriage Plot]. Again, I'm going to respond to a very small directive. It's going to be written, well, I'm not going to say — but I know how it's going to be written and what the structure's going to be, and it's going to be quite different than The Marriage Plot."
Awards and honors