William Gaddis was born in New York in 1922. His father worked on Wall Street and in politics, while his mother was a business executive. His parents divorced when he was three and he lived with his mother. He went to Harvard, where he edited The Lampoon. He graduated without taking a degree, when he was asked to leave for misbehaviour, and he then worked as a fact-checker for The New Yorker. He did not serve during World War II, as a result of a kidney disorder. He then travelled for five years in Central America, Europe and North Africa. It was on a brief visit to New York in 1948 that he met Sheri Martinelli, who would be the inspiration for Esme in The Recognitions. While in Spain he got to know the Flemish artists, who would be the inspiration for Wyatt Gwyon in The Recognitions. He returned to New York in 1951 and supported himself working for magazines and with an advance for the book that would become The Recognitions.
The book was published in 1955 but did not have the success Gaddis was expecting. Critics found it too long and too complicated. It has now, of course, become a classic of modern US literature. To support himself, he worked in public relations and received grants, which enabled him to write
J R. This book had some more success, as did his subsequent novels. His final novel was published four years after his death in 1998. He is now recognised as one of the foremost twentieth century US novelists.
Occupy Gaddis (A William Gaddis Resource Page)
Remembering William Gaddis
The Gaddis Annotations
Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-To-Read Books (article by Jonathan Franken)