David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace was a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine from 1996 to 2008.

His first story for the magazine was “Everything Is Green,” from Girl with Curious Hair (1989). Five other short stories of his were published in the magazine, among them “Rabbit Resurrected” (August 1992), a parody of John Updike’s “Rabbit” series; “The Awakening of My Interest in Annual Systems” (September 1993), an excerpt from Infinite Jest that ran three years before the novel was published; and “The Compliance Branch” (February 2008), an excerpt from his unfinished, final novel, The Pale King (2011).

Wallace also wrote four works of nonfiction for the magazine: “Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern boyhood” (December 1991); “Ticket to the Fair” (July 1994), which was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in feature writing; “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise” (January 1996), later published as the title piece in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (“It was very clear to us that we had pure cocaine on our hands,” Harper’s editor Colin Harrison later said of the article); and “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage” (April 2001).

Wallace died on September 12, 2008. During his life, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and three O. Henry Awards, among others. He was named to the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language in 1999, and in 2005 Infinite Jest was named one of the best one hundred English-language novels since 1923 by Time magazine. The Pale King was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, but lost, in a three-way tie, to nothing.

Readings — From the September 2010 issue

A new examiner

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Readings — From the November 2008 issue

It all gets quite tricky

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Readings — From the February 2008 issue

The compliance branch

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Article — From the April 2001 issue

Tense present

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Democracy, English, and the wars over usage

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

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