Detailed view for the Author: William Gaddis

Full Name:
William Gaddis
New York City, New York, USA
Birth date:
East Hampton, New York, USA
Death date:


Author Biography: William Gaddis was the author of five novels, two of which, J R and A Frolic of His Own, won the National Book Award.

One of the great masters of the twentieth-century novel, William Gaddis was born in 1922 in New York City and grew up in Massapequa, Long Island. He attended Harvard but was asked to leave the university, under mysterious circumstances, during his senior year. After working as a fact-checker at The New Yorker, he traveled through Europe, Africa, and Central America. During this time he wrote his first novel, The Recognitions (1955), a massive, dense, highly allusive work about the fraudulence that pervades contemporary life. Both critics and the public either ignored or dismissed it.

Gaddis took various jobs over the next twenty years to support his family: speechwriting for corporate executives, scriptwriting for government films, and working in public relations for a pharmaceutical company. These experiences informed his second novel, J R (1975). Consisting almost entirely of fragmentary dialogue, the book is a stinging satire of American business, charting the rise and fall of a huge financial empire assembled by an 11-year-old boy.

Considerably shorter and more intimate, Gaddis's third novel, Carpenter's Gothic (1985), is perhaps his darkest work, focusing on the anguished lives of a miserable heiress and her husband, a scheming Vietnam veteran. A Frolic of His Own (1994) delineates the absurdities of the law and the legal profession.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Gaddis received a MacArthur grant in 1982. He died in 1998. His last novel, Agape Agape, a monologue about the destructive effects of corporate culture and technological innovation on the arts, was published posthumously in October 2002, along with The Rush for Second Place, a collection of his critical essays.

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