David Foster Wallace was born in 1962 to parents James, a professor at the University of Illinois, and Sally who later worked as a professor of English composition at Parkland College. Growing up in Urbana, Illinois, Foster Wallace developed a lifelong fondness for tennis that would become a regular feature in many of his works.
After graduating from high school, Foster Wallace attended his father’s alma mater Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. While in college, Foster Wallace majored in both English and philosophy with a focus in mathematics and modal logic. He graduated in 1985 with two theses under his belt. His thesis for his English major would eventually become his first novel The Broom of the System while his thesis for philosophy titled Richard Taylor’s ‘Fatalism’ and the Semantics of Physical Modality would earn him the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize.
After Amherst, Foster Wallace attended the University of Arizona and graduated with a Master’s of Fine Arts in 1987 and later that year published The Broom of the System. This work centers on an emotionally unstable telephone operator who questions the existence of her reality.
In 1992, Foster Wallace became a professor at Illinois State University in the English Department. Later in 1996, Foster Wallace’s most famous work Infinite Jest was published when he was only 33. Infinite Jest is partially about a missing film copy of the same title. The film is supposedly so entertaining that anyone who watches it no longer cares about anything else. The book also touches upon the major themes of depression, family relationships, film theory, tennis, Quebec separatism, rehab programs, child abuse, among many other topics. This work was included in Time magazine’s 100 best English language novels since 1923 list. After Infinite Jest, Foster Wallace was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship or “Genius Grant” for his contributions to modern literature.
Later in 2002, Foster Wallace began working at Pomona College as the Roy E. Disney Professor of Creative Writing and English. Unfortunately despite his many career achievements and successes, Foster Wallace suffered from depression for many years. After trying to treat his depression with medication and even electroconvulsive therapy, Foster Wallace sadly ended his own life by hanging in 2008. Following his death, an unfinished work The Pale King was published in 2011. In 2012, it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Foster Wallace’s brilliant career and writing was ended much too soon but has left a remarkable legacy on modern American literature.