Paul Benjamin Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on 3 February, 1947 to middle-class Jewish parents of Polish descent.
An avid reader since adolescence, Auster began writing poetry at an early age. At the age of 17, he left New Jersey to visit Europe. He travelled between Italy, France, Spain and Ireland for years, until in 1966 he met Lydia Davis – today a successful writer – whom he married in 1974. Their son, Daniel, was born in 1977.
In 1969, after graduating in literature at Columbia University, Auster took a job as a deck hand on the oil tanker Esso Florence. With his savings from this experience, he moved back to France, where he remained for three years. During this period, when his finances were extremely limited, he lived by giving private lessons, occasionally contributing articles to the newspapers, writing screenplays for silent films, and translating French authors including Jacques Dupin, Jean Paul Sartre, Stéphan Mallarmé and Georges Simenon. On his return to the United States, he began to contribute short stories, articles and reviews to a number of newspapers and magazines. His poems appeared in “Harper’s Saturday Review” and “New York Review of Books”. In 1974 he moved to New York and published a collection of poems under the title Unearth, which was followed in 1976 by Wall Writing. His career as a writer of novels began in 1979 with The Invention of Solitude, an autobiographical novel which he wrote almost without reflection, describing the death of his father and focusing on their complex and difficult relationship. In the same year, his marriage to Lydia Davis ended in divorce. In 1982 he married his second wife, Siri Hustvedt, an American writer of Norwegian descent. Their daughter, Sophie, was born in 1988.
In 1982, a small publishing house agreed to publish The Invention of Solitude.
Dividing his time between essays, poetry and fiction, his literary works went largely unnoticed until 1985, when he published his first book, City of Glass, which, together with his subsequent works Ghosts and The Locked Room were published collectively in the highly-successful The New York Trilogy. After having been rejected by seventeen publishers, the novel was received with enthusiasm by the critics and the public alike, and brought Paul Auster to a position of international pre-eminence among contemporary writers. Since then, his works have been published more regularly. The New York Trilogy was followed by In the Country of Last Things (1987), Moon Palace (1989), The Music of Chance (1990), The Red Notebook (1991), The Art of Hunger (1992), Leviathan (1992), Mr Vertigo (1994), Hand to Mouth (1997), Timbuktu (1999), I Thought My Father Was God (2001), The Book of Illusions (2002), Oracle Night (2003), The Brooklyn Follies (2005), Travels in the Scriptorium (2007) and Man in the Dark (2008).
In the 1990s, Auster turned his talents to the cinema, writing the scripts and screenplays for Smoke, which won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1995, followed by Blue in the face and then Lulu on the bridge and The inner life of Martin Frost, which Auster also directed.
His works have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have won numerous major awards: in 1989, the Prix France Culture de Littérature Étrangère; in 1990 the Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Literature; in 1993 the Prix Médicis Étranger and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awarded by the French government; in 1996 the Bodil Prize, the Independent Spirit Prize and the John William Carrington Prize for Literary Excellence. In 2006, Paul Auster received the prestigious Principe delle Asturie Prize, which has previously been awarded to two other protagonists of “Dedica,” Claudio Magris (2004) and Amos Oz (2008).
Paul Auster lives and works in New York.