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Nathanael West

Biography

Nathanael West was born Nathan Weinstein in New York in 1903. His parents were German-Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. His father was a building contractor. West was not an intellectual, preferring the outdoors, particularly baseball. He attended Tufts University but only got in when a friend helped him forge a transcript from his high school. However, when he did not attend class, he was asked to leave but used the transcripts of another Nathan Weinstein to gain admission to Brown University. He managed to survive at Brown, despite living well, though he had to persuade one of his professors to change his grade, in order to graduate. After graduation he worked in his father’s building and real estate business, before going off to Paris, with the new, legally changed name of Nathanael West.

He worked briefly on The Dream Life of Balso Snell in Paris, besides enjoying himself but, when he returned, his father’s business had taken a downturn and he had to work as a hotel night manager, while working on his novel. He had difficulty getting it published, till a small publisher took it on, on the recommendation of William Carlos Williams. It had little success. Williams asked him to become associate editor of Contact and the magazine published early drafts of his Miss Lonelyhearts. The book was published in 1933. As he made little money from his books (apparently only $1280 during is life), he worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, where he got the ideas which would become The Day of the Locust. While in Hollywood, in 1940, he went on a weekend hunting trip to Mexico with his new life, Eileen. They were killed in a car accident on the way home. His books will remembered for his grotesque portraits of American life.

Books about Nathanael West

Marion Meade: Lonelyhearts: Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney
Joe Woodward: Alive Inside the Wreck: A Biography of Nathanael West

Other links

Nathanael West
Nathanael West and American Apocalyptic
Nathanael West Biography
Year with Short Novels: The Nihilism of Nathanael West
The Grotesque Landscape in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust
Nathanael West (about his connection to baseball)
Funny as a Crutch (profile)
His grave