Jonathan Franzen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jonathan Franzen

Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala
BornJonathan Earl Franzen
(1959-08-17) August 17, 1959 (age 53)
Western Springs, Illinois
OccupationNovelist, essayist
GenresLiterary fiction
Literary movementHysterical realism[1]
Notable work(s)The Corrections (2001), Freedom (2010)
Notable award(s)National Book Award
James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Jump to: navigation, search
Jonathan Franzen

Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala
BornJonathan Earl Franzen
(1959-08-17) August 17, 1959 (age 53)
Western Springs, Illinois
OccupationNovelist, essayist
GenresLiterary fiction
Literary movementHysterical realism[1]
Notable work(s)The Corrections (2001), Freedom (2010)
Notable award(s)National Book Award
James Tait Black Memorial Prize

Jonathan Earl Franzen (born August 17, 1959) is an American novelist and essayist. His 2001 novel, The Corrections, a sprawling, satirical family drama, drew widespread critical acclaim, earned Franzen a National Book Award, was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist, a James Tait Black Memorial Prize and a shortlisting for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His most recent novel, Freedom (2010), coincided with a much debated appearance on the cover of Time magazine alongside the headline "Great American Novelist".[4][5]

Franzen writes for The New Yorker magazine. His 1996 Harper's essay Perchance to Dream bemoaned the state of contemporary literature. 2001's selection of The Corrections for Oprah Winfrey's book club led to a much publicized feud with the talk show host. In recent years, Franzen has become recognized for his purveyance of opinions on everything from social networking services such as Twitter ("the ultimate irresponsible medium") and the proliferation of e-books ("just not permanent enough") to the disintegration of Europe ("The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers. The technicians of finance are making the decisions there. It has very little to do with democracy or the will of the people.") and the self-destruction of America ("almost a rogue state").[6][7][8]


Early life and education

Franzen was born in Western Springs, Illinois,[9] the son of Irene (née Super) and Earl T. Franzen.[10][11][12] His father, raised in Minnesota, was of Swedish descent.[13] Franzen grew up in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in German in 1981.[14] As part of his undergraduate education, he studied abroad in Germany during the 1979-80 academic year with Wayne State University's Junior Year in Munich program. Here he met Michael A. Martone, on whom the character Walter Berglund would one day be based.[15] He also studied on a Fulbright Scholarship at Freie Universität Berlin in Berlin in 1981-82.[16] From these experiences, he speaks fluent German. Upon graduation Franzen got married and moved with his wife to Boston to pursue a career as a novelist. When this plan fell through, they moved to New York, in 1987, where Franzen managed to sell his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City.[17]

Early novels

The Twenty-Seventh City, published in 1988, is set in Franzen's hometown, St. Louis, and deals with the city's fall from grace, St. Louis having been the "fourth city" in the 1870s. This sprawling novel was warmly received and established Franzen as an author to watch.[18] In a conversation with novelist Donald Antrim for Bomb Magazine, Franzen described The Twenty-Seventh City as "a conversation with the literary figures of my parents' generation[,] the great sixties and seventies Postmoderns."[19], adding in a later interview "I was a skinny, scared kid trying to write a big novel. The mask I donned was that of a rhetorically airtight, extremely smart, extremely knowledgeable middle-aged writer."[20]

Strong Motion (1992) focuses on a dysfunctional family, the Hollands, and uses seismic events on the American East Coast as a metaphor for the quakes that occur in family life (as Franzen put it, "I imagined static lives being disrupted from without—literally shaken. I imagined violent scenes that would strip away the veneer and get people shouting angry moral truths at each other."[21]). A 'systems novel', the key 'systems' of Strong Motion according to Franzen are "[...] the systems of science and religion—two violently opposing systems of making sense in the world."[22] The novel was not a critical or financial success at the time of its publication, and Franzen subsequently defended the novel in his 2010 Paris Review interview, remarking "I think they [critics and readers] may be overlooking Strong Motion a little bit."[23]

The Corrections

Franzen's The Corrections, a novel of social criticism, garnered considerable critical acclaim in the United States, winning both the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction[24] and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.[25] The novel was also a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction,[25] the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award,[26] and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (won by Richard Russo for Empire Falls).[27]

In September 2001, The Corrections was selected for Oprah Winfrey's book club. Franzen initially participated in the selection, sitting down for a lengthy interview with Oprah and appearing in B-roll footage in his hometown of St. Louis (described in an essay in How To Be Alone titled "Meet Me In St. Louis"). In October 2001, however, The Oregonian printed an article in which Franzen expressed unease with the selection. In an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, he expressed his worry that the Oprah logo on the cover dissuaded men from reading the book:

So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever. I worry — I'm sorry that it's, uh — I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I've heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say "If I hadn't heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it." Those are male readers speaking. I see this as my book, my creation.[28]

Soon afterward, Franzen's invitation to appear on Oprah's show was rescinded. Winfrey announced, "Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict. We have decided to skip the dinner and we're moving on to the next book."[29][30]

These events gained Franzen and his novel widespread media attention. The Corrections soon became one of the decade's best-selling works of literary fiction. At the National Book Award ceremony, Franzen said "I'd also like to thank Oprah Winfrey for her enthusiasm and advocacy on behalf of The Corrections."[31]

Following the success of The Corrections and the publication of The Discomfort Zone and How to Be Alone, Franzen began work on his next novel. In the interim, he published two short stories in The New Yorker: "Breakup Stories", published November 8, 2004, concerned the disintegration of four relationships; and "Two's Company", published May 23, 2005, concerned a couple who write for TV, then split up.[32]

In 2011, it was announced that Franzen would write a multi-part television adaptation of The Corrections in collaboration with The Squid and The Whale director Noah Baumbach for HBO.[33][34] HBO since then had passed on "Corrections", citing "difficulty" in "adapting the book’s challenging narrative, which moves through time and cuts forwards and back": that would be "difficult to sustain in a series and challenging for viewers to follow, hampering the potential show’s accessibility".[35]


Franzen at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival

On June 8, 2009, Franzen published an extract from Freedom, his novel in progress, in The New Yorker. The extract, titled "Good Neighbors", concerned the trials and tribulations of a couple in St. Paul, Minnesota. On May 31, 2010, a second extract — titled "Agreeable" — was published, also in The New Yorker.[36]

On October 16, 2009, Franzen made an appearance alongside David Bezmozgis at the New Yorker Festival at the Cedar Lake Theatre, reading a portion of his forthcoming novel.[37][38] Sam Allard, writing for North By Northwestern about the event, said that the "…material from his new (reportedly massive) novel" was "as buoyant and compelling as ever" and "marked by his familiar undercurrent of tragedy". Franzen read "an extended clip from the second chapter."[38]

On September 9, 2010, Franzen appeared on Fresh Air to discuss Freedom in the wake of its release. Franzen has drawn what he describes as a "feminist critique" for the attention that male authors receive over female authors—a critique he supports. Franzen also discussed his friendship with David Foster Wallace and the impact of Wallace's suicide on his writing process.[39]

Freedom was the subject of a highly unusual "recall" in the United Kingdom starting in early October 2010. An earlier draft of the manuscript, to which Franzen had made over 200 changes, had been published by mistake. The publisher, HarperCollins initiated an exchange program, but thousands of books had been distributed by that time.[40]

While promoting the book, Franzen became the first American author to appear on the cover of Time magazine since Stephen King did so in 2000. Franzen did so alongside the headline "Great American Novelist".[5] He discussed the implications of the Time coverage, and the reasoning behind the title of Freedom in an interview in Manchester, England, in October 2010.[41]

On September 17, 2010, Oprah Winfrey announced that Jonathan Franzen's Freedom would be an Oprah book club selection, the first of the last season of The Oprah Winfrey Show.[42] On December 6, 2010, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to promote Freedom where they discussed that book and the controversy over his reservations about her picking The Corrections and what that would entail.[43]

Other works

In 1996, while still working on The Corrections, Franzen published a literary manifesto in Harper's Magazine entitled Perchance to Dream. Referencing manifestos written by Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe, among others, Franzen grappled with the novelist's role in an advanced media culture which seemed to no longer need the novel. In the end, Franzen rejects the goal of writing a great social novel about issues and ideas, in favor of focusing on the internal lives of characters and their emotions. Given the huge success of The Corrections, this essay offers a prescient look into Franzen's goals as both a literary and commercially-minded author.[44]

In 2002, Franzen published a critique of the novels of William Gaddis, entitled "Mr. Difficult", in The New Yorker. He begins by recounting how some readers felt The Corrections was spoiled by being too high-brow in parts, and summarizes his own views of reading difficult fiction. He proposes a "Status model", whereby the point of fiction is to be Art, and also a "Contract model", whereby the point of fiction is to be Entertainment, and finds that he subscribes to both models. He praises The Recognitions, admits that he only got half-way through J R, and explains why he does not like the rest of Gaddis's novels.[45]

Since The Corrections Franzen has published How to Be Alone (2002), a collection of essays including "Perchance To Dream", and The Discomfort Zone (2006), a memoir. How To Be Alone is essentially an apologia for reading, articulating Franzen's uncomfortable relationship with the place of fiction in contemporary society. It also probes the influence of his childhood and adolescence on his creative life, which is then further explored in The Discomfort Zone.

In September 2007, Franzen's translation of Frank Wedekind's play Spring Awakening (German: Frühlings Erwachen) was published. In his introduction, Franzen describes the Broadway musical version as "insipid" and "overpraised." In an interview with New York magazine, Franzen stated that he had in fact made the translation for Swarthmore College's theater department for $50 in 1986 and that it had sat in a drawer for 20 years since. After the Broadway show stirred up so much interest, Franzen said he was inspired to publish it because "I knew it was a good translation, better than anything else out there."[46]

Franzen published a social commentary on cell phones, sentimentality, and the decline of public space, I Just Called To Say I Love You (2008),[47] in the September/October 2008 issue of "Technology Review", published by MIT.

In 2012 he published Farther Away, a collection of essays dealing with such topics as his love of birds, his friendship with David Foster Wallace, and his thoughts on technology.[48]


Franzen at the 2010 National Book Critics Circle awards

In a lecture on autobiography and fiction, Franzen discussed four perennial questions often addressed to him by others, all of which annoy him or bother him in some way. These are: (1) Who are your influences? (2) What time of day do you work, and what do you write on? (3) I read an interview with an author who says that, at a certain point in writing a novel, the characters "take over" and tell him what to do. Does this happen to you, too? (4) Is your fiction autobiographical? In the lecture he said of the third question in particular "This one always raises my blood pressure" and quoted Nabokov in response.[49]

In February 2010, Franzen (along with writers such as Richard Ford, Zadie Smith and Anne Enright) was asked by The Guardian to contribute what he believed were ten serious rules to abide by for aspiring writers.[50] Franzen's rules ran as follows:

  1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
  2. Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
  3. Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
  4. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
  5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
  6. The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
  7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  8. It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction [the TIME magazine cover story detailed how Franzen physically disables the Net portal on his writing laptop].
  9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
  10. You have to love before you can be relentless.[50]

Personal life

Franzen married Valerie Cornell in 1982; they separated in 1994 and are now divorced.[51] Franzen now lives part of the year on the Upper East Side of New York City and part in Boulder Creek, California.[52]

In 2010, while on a visit to London, a literary event attended by Franzen was stormed. His spectacles were whisked from his face, a ransom note for $100,000 deposited and a police chase initiated through the city.[53][54][55]

Television appearances

HD Television.svg This television-related list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Awards and other recognition

In January 2011, The Observer named him as one of "20 activists, filmmakers, writers, politicians and celebrities who will be setting the global environmental agenda in the coming year".[58]

The first international academic symposium soley dedicated to Franzen's work, "Jonathan Franzen: Identity and Crisis of the American Novel", is scheduled to take place at the University of Córdoba, Spain, 18–19 April 2013.[59]

List of works

Translated works


  1. ^ Wood, James (2001-10-06). "Tell Me How Does It Feel?". The Guardian (London).
  2. ^ Interview in The Paris Review, Winter 2010.
  3. ^ "Jonathan Franzen". Big Think.!video_idea_id=1574.
  4. ^ "Freedom: A Novel". Macmillan. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  5. ^ a b Fehrman, Craig (August 16, 2010). "The Franzen Cover and a Brief History of Time". The Millions.
  6. ^ Flood, Alison (2012-03-07). "Jonathan Franzen: 'Twitter is the ultimate irresponsible medium'". The Guardian (London).
  7. ^ Flood, Alison (2012-01-30). "Jonathan Franzen warns ebooks are corroding values". The Guardian (London).
  8. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz; Healey, Alex; Tait, Michael (2010-10-25). "Jonathan Franzen: 'America is almost a rogue state'". The Guardian (London).
  9. ^ "Jonathan Franzen Biography - Bio of Jonathan Franzen". Contemporary Literature.
  10. ^ Matassa Flores, Michele (September 15, 2010). "A sweaty-palmed night with Jonathan Franzen". Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  11. ^ "Jonathan Franzen's struggle for 'Freedom'". Star Tribune.
  12. ^ Burn, Stephen J.. "JONATHAN FRANZEN (1959—)".
  13. ^ "IRENE EARL FRANZEN". Google Books.
  14. ^ "Jonathan Franzen '81 First Living American Novelist on Time Cover in Decade". Swarthmore. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  15. ^ Ferguson, Mark. "75 Years of the Junior Year in Munich." Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching of German 40.2 (Fall 2007): 124-132; p.132.
  16. ^ "Jonathan Franzen". PEN American Center.
  17. ^ Willdorf, Nina. "An author's story: How literary It Boy Jonathan Franzen spun himself into a tornado of controversy". The Phoenix.
  18. ^ Laura Shapiro, "Terra Not So Firma," Newsweek, January 20, 1992. (Shapiro: "A huge and masterly drama of St. Louis under siege, gripping and surreal and overwhelmingly convincing." Shapiro also noted The Twenty-Seventh City's "brilliance," and the author's "prodigious gifts," concluding, "The news that he is at work on a third [novel] is welcome indeed."]
  19. ^ Antrim, Donald. "Jonathan Franzen". Bomb Magazine. Fall 2001. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 2001". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.(With acceptance speech by Franzen and essays by Mary Jo Bang, David Ulin, and Lee Taylor Gaffigan from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  25. ^ a b "Book Prize Information – The Corrections". Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  26. ^ "PEN / Faulkner Foundation Award For Fiction Previous". Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  27. ^ a b "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
  28. ^ Gross, Terry (October 15, 2001). "Novelist Jonathan Franzen". Fresh Air (NPR).
  29. ^ "You go, girl… and she went". The Age. 2006-01-21. Retrieved 2007-04-04.
  30. ^ "Oprah's Book Club user communication, October 22, 2001".
  31. ^ "National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches: Jonathan Franzen". National Book Foundation. 2001. Retrieved 2007-04-04.
  32. ^ "jonathan franzen: Contributors". The New Yorker.,%20score%20desc&queryType=parsed. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  33. ^ O'Neal, Sean (September 6, 2011). "Noah Baumbach developing Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections as HBO series". A. V. Club.,61383/.
  34. ^ Rose, Lacey (2011-09-02). "Noah Baumbach to Take on Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' for HBO". The Hollywood Reporter.
  35. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 1, 2012). "HBO Drama Pilot ‘The Corrections’ Not Going Forward". Deadline.
  36. ^ , The New Yorker, 2010-05-31,
  37. ^ "Festival". The New Yorker. 2009-01-07. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  38. ^ a b "The Franzen Interface". North by Northwestern. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  39. ^ "Franzen On The Book, The Backlash, His Background". Fresh Air (NPR). 2010-09-09. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  40. ^ Flood, Alison; Davis, Rowenna (2010-10-01). "Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom suffers UK recall". The Guardian (London).
  41. ^ Haslam, Dave (October 3, 2010). "Onstage interview with celebrated American novelist Jonathan Franzen". Dave Haslam, Author and DJ - Official Site.
  42. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (September 18, 2010). "Oprah's book club christens Franzen's 'Freedom'". Los Angeles Times.
  43. ^ "Author Jonathan Franzen Appears on 'Oprah' Show". ABC News.
  44. ^ Franzen, Jonathan (1996). "Perchance to dream: In the age of images, a reason to write novels". Harper's.
  45. ^ Franzen, Jonathan (2002). "Mr. Difficult". The New Yorker.
  46. ^ "Q&A With 'Spring Awakening: A Play' Translator Jonathan Franzen". 2007-09-10. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  47. ^ "I Just Called to Say I Love You". September/October 2008, Technology Review. Retrieved 2010-12-01.
  48. ^ Lopate, Phillip. "Manageable Discontents". New York Times. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  49. ^ Franzen, Jonathan (2012-05-25). "Jonathan Franzen: the path to Freedom". The Guardian (London).
  50. ^ a b Dyer, Geoff; Hare, David (2010-02-20). "Ten rules for writing fiction". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  51. ^ Eakin, Emily (2001-09-02). "Jonathan Franzen's Big Book". The New York Times.
  52. ^ "Jonathan Franzen". The New Yorker.
  53. ^ "Franzen's glasses stolen at launch". The Bookseller.
  54. ^ Armitstead, Claire (2010-10-05). "Who stole Jonathan Franzen's glasses?". The Guardian (London).
  55. ^ "Why I stole Franzen's glasses". GQ. 2010-10-06.
  56. ^ "Charlie Rose". May 17, 1996.
  57. ^ Barrie-Anthony, Steven (2005-11-30). "The call of 'D'oh!'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10. "The script calls for Chabon and Franzen to brawl during a dispute about their literary influences, and standing next to each other in the recording room, the friends ready themselves for a fight. Franzen complains loudly that he has fewer lines than Chabon – "Only 38 words!" – to which Chabon responds, "I see there's a little counting going on in the Franzenian corner.""
  58. ^ Siegle, Lucy (2011-01-16). "Green giants: the eco power list". The Observer (London).
  59. ^


External links