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.

Context — September 11, 2015, 5:44 pm

Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes

A Midwestern boyhood

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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

Fiction — From the October 1998 issue

Brief interviews with hideous men

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
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Acceptable Losses·

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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