The Center for Fiction, founded in 1820 as the Mercantile Library and now functioning as a bookstore, library and ongoing public literary salon , is certainly the center of the New York universe for fans of the late David Foster Wallace.
His biographer David Lipsky, author of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, read entertaining excerpts from his conversations with with Wallace and offered some insider glimpses into the process of becoming a generation’s iconic writer last evening at the Center, located at 17 E. 47th St. in Manhattan.
He was introduced by Bill Mottolese, who this fall led a reading group at the Center that studied Wallace’s The Pale King, published posthumously (and appropriately for a book with the Internal Revenue Service at its core) on April 15, 2011, and other Wallace works. It was the second group led by Mottolese, who earlier led a group that together digested Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
Among other things, Lipsky told of Wallace’s time getting a graduate degree at the University of Arizona, where the writing faculty did not take kindly to his work — until his first novel was published. Then, as Lipsky explained, many became backslappers. Wallace’s verdict: they didn’t have “the courage of their contempt.”
Lipsky, a novelist himself (The Art Fair), teaches and also appears on NPR. He got to know Wallace when Rolling Stone, where he is a contributing editor, assigned him to follow DFW on a book tour for Infinite Jest. According to Lipsky, Rolling Stone founder Jan Wenner took one look at a photo of DFW in the New York Times, with his headband and long hair and declared: “he’s one of us.”