Michael Chabon (born May 24, 1963) is an American author best known for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001.


Early years

Chabon (pronounced, in his words, "Shea as in Shea Stadium, Bon as in Jovi") grew up in Columbia, Maryland and is of Jewish descent. Chabon has said he knew he wanted to be a writer when, at the age of ten, he wrote his first short story for a class assignment. Featuring Sherlock Holmes, the story received an A, and Chabon recalled, "I thought to myself, That's it. That's what I want to do. I can do this. And I never had any second thoughts or doubts."[1]

A year later, Chabon's parents divorced; consequently, divorce, fatherhood, and single-parenthood would become frequent themes in his writing. Also, many of his novels contain Jewish characters and address issues of importance to American Jews such as assimilation and anti-Semitism. The writer received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine.

Initial literary success

Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was written as his UC-Irvine master's thesis. Without telling Chabon, his professor sent it to a literary agent,[2] who got the author a $155,000 advance on the novel (an impressive sum, considering that most first-time novelists receive advances ranging from $5,000 to $7,500.)[3] The Mysteries of Pittsburgh appeared in 1988 and became a bestseller, instantly catapulting Chabon to the status of literary celebrity.

Chabon was ambivalent about his newfound fame. He turned down offers to appear in a Gap ad and to be featured as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People."[4] (He later said, of the People offer, "I don't give a shit [about it]....I only take pride in things I've actually done myself. To be praised for something like that is just weird. It just felt like somebody calling and saying, 'We want to put you in a magazine because the weather's so nice where you live.'")[5]

In 2001, Chabon reflected on the success of his first novel by saying that while "the upside was that I was published and I got a readership[, the] downside....was that, emotionally, this stuff started happening and I was still like, 'Wait a minute, is my thesis done yet?' It took me a few years to catch up. And I was married at the time to someone else who was also a struggling writer, and the success created a gross imbalance in our careers, which was problematic."[5] Chabon's marriage, to poet Lollie Groth, ended in divorce in 1991. The author wrote of his first marriage in the 2006 anthology I Married My Mother-in-law. The same year as his divorce, Chabon published A Model World, a collection of short stories, many of which had been published previously in The New Yorker.

Sexual orientation as a theme

Chabon was featured in a Newsweek article on up-and-coming gay writers after the publication of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, whose protagonist has liaisons with people of both sexes. Chabon later told The New York Times that he was almost happy for the magazine's error, saying, "I feel very lucky about all of that. It really opened up a new readership to me, and a very loyal one."[4] In an introduction to the re-issued Mysteries of Pittsburgh,[6] Chabon wrote about his own past same-sex relationships. Chabon married the writer Ayelet Waldman in 1993, and they currently live together in Berkeley, California with their four children.[7]

In a 2002 interview with Metro Weekly, Chabon said on the subject, "[I]f Mysteries of Pittsburgh is about anything in terms of human sexuality and identity, it's that people can't be put into categories all that easily."[8]

Struggles with second novel

After the success of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon spent five years working on a sophomore effort. Called Fountain City, the novel was a "highly ambitious opus....about an architect building a perfect baseball park in Florida"[9] that eventually ballooned to 1,500 pages, with no end in sight.[1] The process was frustrating for Chabon, who, in his words, "never felt like I was conceptually on steady ground."[9]

At one point, Chabon submitted a 672-page draft to his agent and editor, who disliked the work. Chabon had problems dropping the novel, though. "It was really scary," he said later. "I'd already signed a contract and been paid all this money. And then I'd gotten a divorce and half the money was already with my ex-wife. My instincts were telling me, This book is fucked. Just drop it. But I didn't, because I thought, What if I have to give the money back?"[10] Chabon said that he "used to go down to my office and fantasize about all the books I could write instead."

When he finally decided to abandon Fountain City, Chabon recalls staring at his blank computer for hours, before suddenly picturing "a 'straightlaced, troubled young man with a tendency toward melodrama' trying to end it all."[1] He began writing, and within a couple of days, had written 50 pages of what would become his second novel, Wonder Boys. Chabon drew on his experiences with Fountain City for the character of Grady Tripp, a frustrated novelist who has spent years working on an immense fourth novel. The author wrote Wonder Boys in a dizzy seven-month streak, without telling his agent or publisher he'd abandoned Fountain City. The book, published in 1995, was a commercial and critical success.

Recent work

In 1999 Chabon published his second collection of short stories, Werewolves in their Youth. A year later, he published The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a novel about an illustrator and a writer in the early comic book industry, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 2002, Chabon published Summerland, a fantasy novel written for younger readers, which won the 2003 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. In 2004, he wrote The Final Solution, a novella about an investigation led by an unknown old man, whom the reader can guess to be Sherlock Holmes, during the final years of World War II. His Dark Horse Comics project The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, a quarterly anthology series, purports to cull stories from an involved, fictitious sixty-year history of the Escapist character created by the protagonists of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It was awarded the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Anthology and a pair of Harvey Awards for Best Anthology and Best New Series.

Chabon recently completed work on Gentlemen of the Road, a 15-part serialized novel that debuted in The New York Times Magazine on January 28, 2007. The serial (which at one point had the working title "Jews with Swords") has been described by Chabon as "a swashbuckling adventure story set around the year 1000."[11] In late 2006, the author also completed the final draft of his fifth novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union,[12] a hardboiled detective story that will be published on May 1, 2007.

Interest in genre fiction

In a 2002 essay, Chabon decried the state of modern short fiction (including his own), saying that, with rare exceptions, it consisted solely of "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story."[13] In an apparent reaction against these "plotless [stories] sparkling with epiphanic dew," Chabon's post-2000 work has been marked by an increased interest in genre fiction and plot. While The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was, like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys, an essentially realistic, contemporary novel (whose plot happened to revolve around comic-book superheroes), Chabon's subsequent works—such as The Final Solution, his dabbling with comic book writing, and the "swashbuckling adventure" of Gentlemen of the Road—have been almost exclusively devoted to mixing aspects of genre and literary fiction.[2] The author has since made it clear that "his desire is nothing less than annihilation of literary categories."[2]

Chabon's forays into genre fiction have met with mixed critical reaction. One Science fiction short story by Chabon, "The Martian Agent," was described by a reviewer as "enough to send readers back into the cold but reliable arms of The New Yorker."[14] Another critic wrote of the same story that it was “richly plotted, action-packed,“ and that “Chabon skilfully elaborates his world and draws not just on the steampunk worlds of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Michael Moorcock, but on alternate histories by brilliant SF mavericks such as Avram Davidson and Howard Waldrop. The imperial politics are craftily resonant and the story keeps us hanging on.”[15] While The Village Voice called The Final Solution "an ingenious, fully imagined work, an expert piece of literary ventriloquism, and a mash note to the beloved boys' tales of Chabon's youth",[16] The Boston Globe wrote, "[T]he genre of the comic book is an anemic vein for novelists to mine, lest they squander their brilliance,"[17] and The New York Times added that the detective story, "a genre that is by its nature so constrained, so untransgressive, seems unlikely to appeal to the real writer."[14]

In 2005, Chabon argued against the idea that genre fiction, and entertaining fiction, shouldn't appeal to "the real writer," saying that the common perception is that "Entertainment....means junk. [But] maybe the reason for the junkiness of so much of what pretends to entertain us is that we have accepted--indeed, we have helped to articulate--such a narrow, debased concept of entertainment....I'd like to believe that, because I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period."[18]

Among the more positive responses to Chabon's brand of "trickster literature" appeared in Time magazine, whose Lev Grossman wrote that "This is literature in mid-transformation....[t]he highbrow and the lowbrow, once kept chastely separate, are now hooking up, [and] you can almost see the future of literature coming."[19] Grossman classed Chabon with a movement of authors similarly eager to blend literary and popular writing, including Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, and Susanna Clarke.

Experiences with Hollywood

Although Michael Chabon has described his attitude toward Hollywood as "pre-emptive cynicism,"[3] for years the author has nevertheless engaged in sustained, and often fruitless, efforts to bring both adapted and original projects to the screen. In 1994, Chabon pitched a screenplay entitled The Gentleman Host to producer Scott Rudin, a romantic comedy "about old Jewish folks on a third-rate cruise ship out of Miami."[10] Rudin bought the project and developed it with Chabon, but it was never filmed, partly due to the release of the similarly-themed film Out to Sea in 1997. In the nineties, Chabon also pitched story ideas for both the X-Men[20] and The Fantastic Four[21] movies, but was rejected.

When Scott Rudin was adapting Wonder Boys for the screen, the author declined an offer to write the screenplay, saying he was too busy writing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.[3] (Directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys was released in 2000 to critical acclaim.) Having bought the film rights to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Rudin then asked Chabon to work on that film's screenplay. Although Chabon spent sixteen months from 2001-2002 working on the novel's film adaptation, the project has been mired in pre-production for years.

Chabon's work, however, remains popular in Hollywood, with Rudin purchasing the film rights to The Yiddish Policemen's Union in 2002, five years before the book would be published. The same year, Miramax bought the rights to Summerland and Tales of Mystery and Imagination (a short story collection that Chabon has not yet written), each of which was optioned for a sum in the mid-six figures.[3] Chabon also wrote a draft for 2004's Spider-Man 2, about a third of which was used in the final film. Around the time of the film's release, Chabon wrote that "People seem to want to know which parts of the final film, if any, represent my contribution. I always say, 'The ones you liked the best.' That is, of course, a non-answer. As is this."[22] Soon after Spider-Man 2 was released, director Sam Raimi mentioned that he hoped to hire Chabon to work on the film's sequel, "if I can get him,"[23] though Chabon would end up not working on Spider-Man 3.[citation needed]

In October 2004, it was announced that Chabon was at work writing Disney's Snow and the Seven, a live-action martial arts retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to be directed by master Hong Kong fight choreographer and director Yuen Wo Ping.[24] In August 2006, Chabon said that he had been replaced on Snow, sarcastically explaining that the producers wanted to go in "more of a fun direction."[12] Also, though Chabon is uninvolved with the project, director Rawson Thurber shot a film adaptation of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh starring Peter Sarsgaard in Fall 2006, for a planned 2007 release.[25]



Short story collections

As contributor or editor

  • McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (editor and contributor) (2003) ISBN 1-4000-3339-X
  • JSA All Stars, "The Strange Case of Mr. Terrific and Doctor Nil" (writer) (2004) ISBN 1-4012-0219-5
  • McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (editor) (2004) ISBN 1-4000-7874-1
  • Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist (comic book series published by Dark Horse Comics) (2004-2005) (Numbers 1-8; the first six are also collected in three books, two numbers per volume)
  • My California: Journeys by Great Writers (Contributor: "Berkeley" essay) (2004) ISBN 1-883318-43-2
  • The Best American Short Stories 2005 (editor, with Katrina Kenison) (2005) ISBN 0-618-42705-8
  • The Escapists (6-issue comic book limited series published by Dark Horse Comics) (2006)


  • In 2000, Chabon told The New York Times that he kept a strict schedule, writing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, Sunday through Thursday.[4] He tries to write 1,000 words a day. Commenting on the rigidity of his routine, Chabon said, "There have been plenty of self-destructive rebel-angel novelists over the years, but writing is about getting your work done and getting your work done every day. If you want to write novels, they take a long time, and they're big, and they have a lot of words in them....[T]he best environment, at least for me, is a very stable, structured kind of life."[5]
  • Starting with Wonder Boys, Chabon provides subtle hints throughout his work that the stories he tells take place in a shared fictional universe. In that novel, one of the buildings on the unnamed college campus where protagonist Grady Tripp teaches is called Arning Hall; the biker antihero of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is Cleveland Arning, described as having come from a wealthy family (that might be expected to be able to endow a building). Also mentioned in that novel, though not by name, is a dead Pittsburgh Pirates catcher very similar to the Eli Drinkwater whose funeral figures in Chabon’s story Smoke. It’s clear that Happy Blackmore, a sportswriter who gives the Ford Galaxie to Grady Tripp as payment for a debt, has written a biography of Drinkwater. Drinkwater makes another appearance, in passing, in Summerland. As one final example, in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, mention is made of a “Levine School of Applied Meteorology.” Levine is a main character in Chabon’s story A Model World—he discovers, or rather plagiarizes, a formula for “nephokinesis,” i.e., cloud control.
  • Chabon is a big fan of the Golden Age Mister Terrific and contributed a story about Mister Terrific to the JSA "All Stars" mini-series.

Michael Chabon (first on left) in a promotional image for Moe'N'a Lisa (L to R: Chabon, Franzen, Wolfe, Vidal).

  • At least two of Chabon's books feature references to the work of Thomas Pynchon. In The Mysteries of Pittsburgh the names of the Japanese exchange students are Takeshi and Ichizo—after the Komical Kamikazes in Gravity's Rainbow. The same Pynchon novel reappears in passing in Wonder Boys, where the American publishing house Terry Crabtree works for has just been acquired by German conglomerate Blicero Verlag, undoubtedly a reference to GR's demonic German rocket scientist.
  • In 2006, Chabon guest starred alongside Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen, and Gore Vidal in an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Moe'N'a Lisa." In the episode, he got into a fist fight with his real-life friend, Jonathan Franzen. In the end of the episode, he was originally supposed to be killed by a giant boulder, but that ending was cut from the episode.[26]
  • Chabon has forged an unusual horror/fantasy fiction persona, under the name of August Van Zorn. More elaborately developed than a pseudonym, August Van Zorn is purported to be a pen name for one Albert Vetch (1899-1963), described by Chabon as "the greatest unknown horror writer of the twentieth century." Van Zorn is both a peripheral character in Chabon's novel Wonder Boys (in which the main characters share a fascination with Van Zorn), and the attributed author of "In The Black Mill", a short story in Chabon's 1999 collection Werewolves in Their Youth. Chabon has created a comprehensive bibliography for Van Zorn and even given him an equally-fictional literary scholar devoted to his oeuvre, named Leon Chaim Bach (an anagram of "Michael Chabon," just like "Malachi B. Cohen," the fictional comics expert who chronicles the history of the Escapist). In 2004, Chabon established the August Van Zorn Prize, "awarded to the short story that most faithfully and disturbingly embodies the tradition of the weird short story as practiced by Edgar Allan Poe and his literary descendants, among them August Van Zorn." The first recipient of the prize was Jason Roberts, whose winning story, "7C", was then included in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Chabon.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cahill, Bryon. "Michael Chabon: a writer with many faces," Writing, Apr/May 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Spanberg, Erik. "Able to leap over literary barriers in a single book: Chabon ranges from Kabbalah to Captain Nemo", The Christian Science Monitor, 2004-11-30. Retrieved on 2007-01-19. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gottlieb, Jeff. "Trip Along Write Path: Author struggles for Hollywood ending" (reprint), The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2002-07-16. Retrieved on 2007-01-17.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "sent" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "sent" defined multiple times with different content
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Buzbee, Lewis. "Michael Chabon: Comics Came First", The New York Times, 2000-09-24. Retrieved on 2007-01-21. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Binelli, Mark; Brian Duffy. "The Amazing Story of the Comic-Book Nerd who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction" (reprint), Rolling Stone, 2001-09-27. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  6. Chabon, Michael. "On 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh", The New York Review of Books, 2005-06-09. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  7. Ybarra, Michael J.. "Taking on the Law: Ayelet Waldman lashes out at drug sentencing in her new novel", Los Angeles Times, 2003-10-05. Retrieved on 2007-01-20. 
  8. Bugg, Sean. "Blurring the Lines: Interview with Michael Chabon", Metro Weekly, 2002-03-14. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tobias, Scott. "An Interview with Michael Chabon", The Onion, 2000-11-22. Retrieved on 2007-01-18. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Giles, Jeff. "He's a real boy wonder" (fee required), Newsweek, 1995-04-10. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  11. Lengel, Kerry. "Author mines Jewish history", The Arizona Republic, 2006-10-04. Retrieved on 2007-01-18. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Jews with Swords" Are Coming. The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay (2006-08-26). Retrieved on 2007-01-18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "sword" defined multiple times with different content
  13. Chabon, Michael. “The Editor’s Notebook: A Confidential Chat with the Editor.” McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. Ed. Michael Chabon. New York: Vintage, 2002.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Friedell, Deborah. "'The Final Solution': Bird of the Baskervilles" (book review), The New York Times, 2004-11-14. Retrieved on 2007-01-18. 
  15. Quinn, Paul. "On the trail of a genre high" (book review, reprint), The Times Literary Supplement, 2003-10-19. Retrieved on 2007-01-19. 
  16. Conn, Andrew Lewis. "What Up, Holmes? Michael Chabon and the world's most famous detective" (book review), The Village Voice, 2004-11-09. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  17. Jensen, Kurt. "Chabon's wartime 'Solution' is murder most bland" (book review), The Boston Globe, 2004-12-26. Retrieved on 2007-01-18. 
  18. Chabon, Michael. "Introduction." The Best American Short Stories 2005. Ed. Michael Chabon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
  19. Grossman, Lev. "Pop Goes the Literature", Time, 2004-12-17. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 
  20. Chabon, Michael (March 2005). An Account of a Brief Bout of Mutant Madness. Archived from the original on 2005-04-04. Retrieved on 2007-03-05.
  21. Chabon, Michael (July 2005). Maybe Not So Much with the Fantastic. Archived from the original on 2006-02-06. Retrieved on 2007-03-05.
  22. Kavalier Movie Pretty Much Moribund Right Now. The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay (2004-07-17). Retrieved on 2007-01-18.
  23. Glover, Kelly (2004-10-10). Raimi Spills About 'Spider 3'. Movie News. Retrieved on 2007-01-18.
  24. Kit, Borys. "Disney, Chabon retelling 'Snow'", The Hollywood Reporter, 2004-10-29. Retrieved on 2007-01-18. Archived from the original on 2005-12-02. 
  25. Vancheri, Barbara. "Film Notes: 'Mysteries of Pittsburgh' will film here next month", The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2006-08-11. Retrieved on 2006-10-06. 
  26. Barrie-Anthony, Steven. "The call of 'D'oh!'" (reprint), Los Angeles Times, 2005-11-30. Retrieved on 2007-03-05. 

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