Steven Millhauser

Infobox Writer
name = Steven Millhauser

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birthdate = August 3, 1943
birthplace = New York City, New York
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occupation = novelist, short story writer
nationality = American
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influences = Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Beckett
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Steven Millhauser (born 3 August, 1943) is an American novelist and short story writer. He won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel "". The prize brought many of his older books back into print.

Life and career

Millhauser was born in New York City, grew up in Connecticut, and received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965. He then pursued a doctorate in English at Brown University. He never completed his dissertation but wrote parts of "Edwin Mullhouse" and "From the Realm of Morpheus" in two separate stays at Brown. Between his times at the university, he wrote "Portrait of a Romantic" at his parents' house in Connecticut. His story "The Invention of Robert Herendeen" (in "The Barnum Museum") features a failed student who has moved back in with his parents; the story is loosely based on this period of Millhauser's life. [cite web|url=|title=Steven Millhauser|publisher=New York State Writers Institute, SUNY|accessdate=2007-09-01]

Until the Pulitzer, Millhauser was best known for his 1972 debut, "Edwin Mullhouse". This novel, about a precocious writer whose career ends abruptly with his death at age eleven, features the fictional Jeffrey Cartwright playing Boswell to Edwin's Johnson. "Edwin Mullhouse" brought critical acclaim, and Millhauser followed with a second novel, "Portrait of a Romantic", in 1977, and his first collection of short stories, "In The Penny Arcade", in 1986. Millhauser's stories often treated fantasy themes in a manner reminiscent of Poe or Borges, and with a distinctively American voice. In them mechanical cowboys at penny arcades came to life; curious amusement parks, museums, or catacombs beckoned with secret passageways and walking automata; dreamers dreamed dreams and children flew out their windows at night on magic carpets. [cite web|url=|title=Dictionary of Literary Biography on Steven (Lewis) Millhauser|author=Michael Adams|date=2006|accessdate=2007-09-01]

Millhauser's collections continued with "The Barnum Museum" (1990), "Little Kingdoms" (1993), and "The Knife Thrower and Other Stories" (1998). The unexpected success of "Martin Dressler" in 1997 brought Millhauser increased attention. His short story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" was adapted for the 2006 film "The Illusionist", directed by Neil Burger and starring Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton. [cite web|url=|title=The Illusionist: Movie Production Notes|publisher=Entertainment Magazine|date=2006|accessdate=2007-09-01] "The Illusionist" grossed more than US$120 million worldwide. [cite web|url=|title="The Illusionist": Summary|publisher=Box Office Mojo|accessdate=2007-11-12] [cite web|url=|title="The Illusionist": DVD/Home Video|publisher=Box Office Mojo|accessdate=2007-11-13]

Two recent short stories, [ "History of a Disturbance"] in the March 2007 "New Yorker" and "The Wizard of West Orange" in the April 2007 "Harper's Magazine", address Buddhist themes. Millhauser lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, and teaches at Skidmore College.

Critical evaluation

Millhauser's fiction often addresses the theme of a system that elaborates itself until it collapses or reaches some crucial turning point. "Eisenheim the Illusionist," for example, follows the fictional history of ever-more-elaborate magic shows in Vienna, shows that eventually become untenable. In the end, the most successful magician reinvents his act along minimalist lines. In another story, "The Dome," Millhauser tells the story of the invention of artificial domes that cover houses. Eventually these become more elaborate, covering whole towns and cities and, eventually, the nation. In other fiction he has treated such things as fashion and retail as systems or discourses that grow more and more elaborate, sometimes being reinvented along more minimalist lines after achieving baroque complexity. [cite web|url=|title=Steven Millhauser, American Dreamer|author=Donald W. Faulkner|publisher=SUNY|accessdate=2007-09-01]

Millhauser's work is highly literary and his influences are from many sources: "Edwin" follows "Pale Fire" and "Lolita" extremely closely, and Nabokov is everywhere a stylistic influence. Beckett is all over "Romantic", and Spenser and Shakespeare everywhere in "Morpheus". Millhauser's stories abound with influences, and part of the joy (or annoyance) of reading him is the extent to which his writing is very much a commentary on other fiction. Poe and Kafka are major interests in his stories, more in the rationalist mode of Beckett or Borges; but many of his stories have a fabulist quality, and the sources are often German romanticism in general and Hoffmann in particular. Hawthorne and Henry James are also very important stylistically. As much as other writers serve as reference to Millhauser, he is even more self-referential. His work is fiction with a capital F, and the theme that creativity (including his own, which he flaunts sometimes with wonderful humor) is more real than reality, is really his only theme. [cite web|url=|title=Steven (Lewis) Millhauser Biography|author=J.J. Wylie|publisher=Brief Biographies|date=2007|accessdate=2007-11-12]

Millhauser's style is usually extremely formal. It is so alliterative as to be positively medieval at times, and is extremely parallel in constructions. The collective of things — which are likely to grow bigger and gigantic and more absurd, as in insane department stores or grotesque hotels or malls — can suddenly vanish; or the focus will suddenly and maniacally change to the hugely specific, which often can be hideous. The writing is full of indeterminate and threatening beings, automatons and magical creatures that come alive, and even in a seemingly realistic setting, a character might suddenly climb a moonbeam or turn to ink and fade away. Millhauser is prized for his supposedly postmodern sensibility, but he is probably most popular because of the very Romantic and uncanny effects he can achieve in his stories. (This shouldn't be confused with magical realism, which is more nature-derived than literary.) [cite web|url=|title=An Interview with Steven Millhauser|author=Marc Chénetier|publisher=Transatlantica|date=2003|accessdate=2007-11-12]

Published works

*"Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright" (1972) ISBN 0-679-76652-9
*"Portrait of a Romantic" (1977) ISBN 0-671-63089-X
*"In the Penny Arcade" (1986) ISBN 1-56478-182-8
*"From the Realm of Morpheus" (1986) ISBN 0-688-06501-5
*"The Barnum Museum" (1990) ISBN 1-56478-179-8
*"Little Kingdoms" (1993) ISBN 0-375-70143-5
*"" (1996) ISBN 0-517-70319-X
*"The Knife Thrower" (1998) ISBN 0-679-78163-3
*"Enchanted Night" (1999) ISBN 0-375-70696-8
*"The King in the Tree" (2003) ISBN 0-375-41540-8
*"Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories" (2008) ISBN 0-307-26756-3


External links

* [ Interview] conducted by Jim Shepard for BOMB Magazine
*imdb name|1841035
* [ Excerpt] from "Enchanted Night"

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