David Foster Wallace considered, at Pomona College Saturday
The work and legacy of David Foster Wallace will be the subject of a panel discussion Saturday at Pomona College in Claremont. It's quite a lineup: biographer D.T. Max and critic Laura Miller have flown in to participate, and they'll be joined by writer Jonathan Lethem, who succeeded Wallace as Pomona's Roy E. Disney professor of creative writing and English.
Wallace, of course, wrote the novel "Infinite Jest," the footnote-heavy behemoth published in 1996 that has become a landmark work of contemporary fiction. He was a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow who also wrote nonfiction, with essays collected in the popular anthology "Consider the Lobster." Wallace was the first writer to be appointed as the Roy E. Disney professor at Pomona College, where he began teaching in 2002. He committed suicide in 2008 at age 46. In 2011, his novel "The Pale King" was published posthumously.
Max wrote about Wallace's struggle with depression and his literary legacy in a powerful New Yorker article; he's now writing a biography of Wallace for Viking Press. "The reason I wanted to go longer on him is that most writers live and die in a room writing, and Wallace definitely did that, but he also lived and died out on the street," Max said when the biography was announced. "He was in the world in a way that most writers are not. Because of his peculiar openness to the world and his peculiar kind of sensitivity, everything that happened in this country affected him and entered his fiction in a way that I don't think is true of other writers."
Lethem, another MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, carefully considered Wallace's legacy before coming to Pomona College. "It was very tender, because Wallace loomed so large here," he told me in 2011. "His footprint as a colleague, the extraordinary impression he left on the whole series of English majors who've now floated out into the world. ... The idea that I might be part of the moving-on seemed very like an honor."
The panel discussion of David Foster Wallace is open to the public; it is scheduled to take place in Pomona College's Edmunds Ballroom beginning at 5 p.m.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Image credit: Pomona College