The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

2003 - Jeffrey Eugenides

Born: 8 March 1960; Detroit, Michigan; USA

Awarded for: "Middlesex"

Prize Motivation: "Jeffrey Kent Eugenides is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer of Greek and Irish extraction."

Field: Fiction

 


Books Written By Jeffrey Eugenides


About Jeffrey Eugenides

Eugenides was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a father of Greek descent and a mother of English and Irish ancestry. He attended Grosse Pointe's private University Liggett School and took his undergraduate degree at Brown University (where he became friends with contemporary Rick Moody), graduating in 1983 after taking a year off to travel across Europe and to volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. Of his decision to study at Brown, Eugenides later remarked "I chose Brown largely in order to study with John Hawkes, whose work I admired. I entered the honors program in English, which forced me to study the entire English tradition, beginning with Beowulf. I felt that since I was going to try to add to the tradition, I had better know something about it." He later earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Stanford University.

Eugenides knew he wanted to be a writer from a relatively early age, stating "I decided very early—my junior year of high school. We read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that year, and it had a big effect on me, for reasons that seem quite amusing to me now. I'm half Irish and half Greek—my mother's family were Kentuckians, Southern hillbillies, and my paternal grandparents immigrants from Asia Minor—and, for that reason, I identified with Stephen Dedalus. Like me, he was bookish, good at academics, and possessed an "absurd name, an ancient Greek." [...] I do remember thinking [...] that to be a writer was the best thing a person could be. It seemed to promise maximum alertness to life. It seemed holy to me, and almost religious." Of his earliest literary influences, Eugenides has cited "[...] the great modernists. Joyce, Proust, Faulkner. From these I went on to discover Musil, Woolf, and others, and soon my friends and I were reading Pynchon and John Barth. My generation grew up backward. We were weaned on experimental writing before ever reading much of the nineteenth-century literature the modernists and postmodernists were reacting against."

Eugenides was raised in Detroit, Michigan and cites the influence of the city and his high-school experiences on his writings. He has said that he has "a perverse love" of his birthplace. "I think most of the major elements of American history are exemplified in Detroit, from the triumph of the automobile and the assembly line to the blight of racism, not to mention the music, Motown, the MC5, house, techno." He also says he has been haunted by the decline of Detroit.

In 1986, he received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship for his story "Here Comes Winston, Full of the Holy Spirit." After living a few years in San Francisco, he moved to Brooklyn, New York and worked as secretary for the Academy of American Poets. While in New York he made friends with numerous similarly struggling writers, including Jonathan Franzen.

From 1999 to 2004, Eugenides lived in Berlin, Germany, where he moved after being awarded a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service to write in Berlin for a year. Eugenides has lived in Princeton, New Jersey, since the fall of 2007, when Eugenides joined the faculty of Princeton University's Program in Creative Writing.[8] Eugenides is now based, with his wife and child, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he is Professor of Creative Writing in the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts.Of teaching creative writing, Eugenides remarked in an interview in The Paris Review, "I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you're writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you'll never dumb things down. You won't have to explain things that don't need explaining. You'll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don't wish to be condescended to. I think about the reader. I care about the reader. Not "audience." Not "readership." Just the reader."


Reviews

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

By Debbie Lee Wesselmann

From the first sentence of Jeffrey Eugenides' MIDDLESEX, I was hooked by this complicated tale of a young girl who grows into a man. The story of Cal Stephanides begins generations before his birth, in a small Greek village, when his grandparents succumb to incestuous desires. Immigration to the United States keeps Desdemona and Lefty's secret intact - until their grandchild Cal reaches puberty. Told with both humor and earnestness, the story grows more engaging with every page. The brilliance of this book emerges not from the superficial story of a hermaphrodite but from the context - historical, scientific, psychological, political, geographical - of Cal's birth and subsequent rebirth. MIDDLESEX is about much more than gender confusion. Cal's mixed gender can be taken as a metaphor for the experience of first- and second-generations born of immigrants. While the context of this story provides the substance, the characters provide the vibrancy. Cal emerges as a reliable and likeable narrator. He is sensible, good-humored, and intelligent. The spectrum of his experiences provides a smooth transition between childhood and adult, enabling the reader to embrace the character as both male and female. Cal's family is affectionately portrayed, even with their failings. (Cal's brother, Chapter Eleven, annoyed me with his name, a running gag, but even he ended up a full-blooded character by the end.) Eugenides has written an expansive, compelling book. Despite its length of over 500 pages, the novel is not a slow read - unless the reader wants it to be, to make it last. Accessible, intelligent, well-paced and plotted, it should appeal to a wide range of readers. I can't recommend this novel highly enough.

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

By Robert G. Yokoyama

Reading a novel about a hermaphrodite is something I never thought I would enjoy, but I was wrong. Middlesex is an excellent book. Jeffery Eugenides is a talented and insightful writer. He describes how Greek immigrants of both sexes had to work hard to survive in Detroit in the early part of the 20th century. Lefty is a fictional character in the novel. I loved reading about how hard he worked to improve his life. He started working at a factory making car engines, and he worked diligently to become a successful bar owner. Eugenidies' description of the race riots in Detroit in 1967 is very vivid. I could picture people looting shops and setting them on fire. I have no idea how a hermaphrodite feels, and I think Eugenides does a good job writing about how it feels to live as one. The main character is a hermaphrodite named Callie. Eugenides writes about Callie's confusion and frustration about not developing like other girls as a teenager. This is very moving. He also writes about her experiences with drugs and having sexual relations with a female classmate. Middlesex is very much a coming of age novel because of the self exploration element. I enjoyed reading how Callie's parents loved and treated her unconditionally. Middlesex is a novel that reminds people to accept and embrace individuals with gender differences.