NYS Writers Institute, March 11, 2004
Auster worked in obscurity for many years, primarily as a poet and translator of French literature, before his first novel, City of Glass (1985), captured a mass audience. The Washington Post Book World called the book, "post-existentialist private eye fiction... It’s as if Kafka has gotten hooked on the gumshoe game and penned his own ever-spiraling version." The book was nominated for the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America.
The success of City of Glass was followed by Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1987); taken together, the books are known as The New York Trilogy of postmodern detective novels. In Ghosts, a private eye named Blue is hired by a man named White to follow and report on a mysterious man named Black. Writing in the New York Times, Rebecca Goldstein called it "a seamless little detective story" and "nearly perfect."
The Locked Room tells the tale of a man who is summoned by the wife of his childhood friend, a brilliant writer named Fanshawe, who has mysteriously disappeared. Writing in the New York Times, Stephen Schiff commented, "Mr. Auster's glassy little jigsaws can be seductive. His plots— decorated with death threats and ‘dark-eyed’ women and all the other private-eye flotsam— draw one in like those of any other page-turner. But once the door bangs shut, the clue-sniffing reader finds himself on a swift elevator to a loftier plane."
Auster’s most recent novel is Oracle Night (December 2003), the story of a Brooklyn man named Sidney Orr. After Sidney makes the innocuous purchase of a blue notebook, he suddenly finds his life riddled with signs, portents, omens, and puzzling events. Publisher’s Weekly called the book, "artful, ingenious… both a darkly suspenseful domestic drama and a moving meditation on chance and loss."
Other novels include The Book of Illusion (2002); Double Game (2000); Timbuktu (1999); Leviathan (1992), which received the Prix Medicis, France’s highest honor for a foreign author; and The Music of Chance (1990), which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
A prize-winning poet, Auster has recently published his Collected Poems (2004), which contains selections of three-and-a-half decades of original poetry, as well as translations of major French poets. Leading American poet Robert Creeley called the book, "a persuasive instance of a master at work in the form."
Auster is also the editor of a recent New York Times bestseller, True Tales of American Life, which grows out of the National Story Project of National Public Radio (NPR).
As a screenwriter, Auster is best-known for his collaborations with director Wayne Wang, including Smoke (1995), Blue in the Face (1995), and The Center of the World (2001). Auster also wrote and directed Lulu on the Bridge (1998), starring Harvey Keitel and Mira Sorvino. Auster’s novel about gamblers, The Music of Chance, was made into a 1993 film starring James Spader and Mandy Patinkin.