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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.
Democracy, English, and the wars over usage
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:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”