David Foster Wallace headshot 2006


David Foster Wallace (1962 – 2008) was an American author whose first novel is titled The Broom of the System (1987). He is perhaps best known as the author of his second novel, the massive Infinite Jest (1996).

Wallace was also a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California (moving there in 2002) as well as a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (1997). His published writing includes essays, journalism, short stories, the unfinished novel The Pale King (2011), and the commencement speech This is Water (2005).


Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, to James Donald Wallace — who is now Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign — and Sally Foster Wallace. Champaign and Urbana were his childhood and adolescent home, during which time he played tennis as a regionally ranked junior player. Wherever he lived throughout his life, Wallace was member of a church.

Higher educationEdit

At Amherst College, Wallace majored in English and philosophy (with a focus on modal logic and mathematics). The theses he wrote for each earned him summa cum laude honors when graduating in 1985. The philosophy thesis, Richard Taylor's 'Fatalism' and the Semantics of Physical Modality, would be published after his death, along with supplemental commentary and background, in the book Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will (2010).

The Broom of the SystemEdit

The English thesis Wallace wrote was published as his first novel (The Broom of the System) on January 6, 1987, two years after he graduated from Amherst and the same year he recieved a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona. The Broom of the System received high praise from critics.

The impetus for the novel came from an old girlfriend who said "she would rather be a character in a piece of fiction than a real person. I got to wondering just what the difference was," according to Wallace.

Another quote from Wallace summed up some of the autobiographical elements of the novel: "... The sensitive tale of a sensitive young WASP who's just had this midlife crisis that’s moved him from coldly cerebral analytic math to a coldly cerebral take on fiction ... which also shifted his existential dread from a fear that he was just a 98.6°F calculating machine to a fear that he was nothing but a linguistic construct."

Infinite JestEdit

Wallace next moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1991. After abandoning graduate school in philosophy at Harvard University, he became an adjunct professor of literature at Emerson College. Work on Infinite Jest began in the same year, with a draft submitted to his editor during the end of 1993.


Wallace committed suicide by hanging on September 12, 2008. The New York Times reported quotes from Wallace's father saying that the author had been medicated for depression for more than 20 years.

Personal papers, books and archives that belonged to Wallace were reported in 2010 to have been purchased by the University of Texas at Austin, for the university's Harry Ransom Center.

Selected bibliographyEdit


Short story collectionsEdit





  • Inclusion of "Good Old Neon" in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, 1997–2002
  • Lannan Foundation Residency Fellow, July–August 2000
  • Named to Usage Panel, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th Edition et seq., 1999
  • Inclusion of "The Depressed Person" in Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
  • Illinois State University, Outstanding University Researcher, 1998 and 1999[42]
  • Aga Khan Prize for Fiction for the story "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men #6", 1997
  • Time magazine's Best Books of the Year (Fiction), 1996
  • Salon Book Award (Fiction), 1996
  • Lannan Literary Award (Fiction), 1996
  • Inclusion of "Here and There" in Prize Stories 1989: The O. Henry Awards
  • Whiting Writers' Award, 1987