Paul Theroux: Thor-ew (which, incidentally, is different to Henry Thoreau which is pronounced like 'thorough')
Paul Edward Theroux was born on April 10, 1941 in Medford, Massachusetts. The
son of a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother, Theroux was one of seven
children. Never much of an athlete, Theroux spent most of the 1950's reading. He
never admitted, even to himself, his desire to be a writer and studied premed in
college. Writing, he believed to be "incompatible with being a man--money is
Theroux, who grew up a Boy Scout and a Catholic, graduated high school in 1959 and left Medford "the first chance I had". He attended the University of Maine where he wrote many anti-Vietnam war editorials and refused to join the required Reserved Officers Training Corps. He transferred to the University of Massachusetts and took a creative writing course from the poet Joseph Langland. That decision changed the way Theroux would perceive writing as a career. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963.
At Syracuse University, Theroux trained for the Peace Corps and then lectured for a short while at the University of Urbino in Italy. Next he was sent to Malawi, Africa (then called the Nyasaland Protectorate, under British rule) where he taught at Soche Hill College and wrote sentimental articles for Christian Science Monitor. He also wrote articles for Playboy, Esquire, and Atlantic Monthly. He won the Playboy Editorial Award for Best Story four times. (In '72, '76, '77, and '79.) In 1964, he was involved in a failed coup d'etat of the Malawi president-dictator and was thrown out of the Peace Corps. He returned to teach English at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he met not only his future wife, Anne Castle, a schoolteacher from London, but also V. S. Naipaul, who was to become his mentor. Theroux's first son, Marcel, was born in Uganda in 1968.
Waldo, Theroux's first novel, sold about 4000 copies. He went on to write Fong and The Indians, published in 1968; Murder in Mount Holly and then Girls at Play, a novel about "the futility of African politics and the disintegration of tribal life." When an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding, Theroux made the decision to leave Africa.
Theroux was next worked at the University of Singapore, where he wrote his fifth novel, Jungle Lovers. His second son Louis was born in Singapore in 1969. It was in Singapore that Theroux realized that he had enough of the monotony of teaching and decided to become a professional writer. His wife got a job in London and he taught one last course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1972. Both Sinning With Annie and a criticism of V. S. Naipaul's early works were published in 1972. Theroux wrote Saint Jack, a novel about his time in Singapore, while living in Dorset, England. Saint Jack was made into a film by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Ben Gazzara as the main character, Jack. Theroux's seventh novel, The Black House is a macabre tale set in the English countryside.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia was Theroux's first travel novel and also the first novel to distinguish him as a well-known writer. The book was a best seller. It was also a main selection for the Book-of-the Month Club.
Next came The Family Arsenal (1976); Picture Palace (1978) which won the Whitbread Award; and The Mosquito Coast (1982) which won the James Tait Black Award. Mosquito Coast was later made into a movie directed by Peter Weir (1986), starring Harrison Ford as the main character. Theroux also published three collections of short stories, that mirrored some if his adventures while abroad: The Consul's File (1977), World's End (1980), and The London Embassy (1983).
At the request of his two sons, Theroux also wrote two children's stories : A Christmas Card (1978) and London Snow: A Christmas Story (1979). He also published Half Moon Street (1984) which contained two short novels. He also continued to write travel novels, publishing The Old Patagonian Express in 1979, The Kingdom By The Sea (1983), Sailing Through China (1983) and The Imperial Way: By Rail from Peshwar to Chittagong (1985), a "coffee table book" which includes the photography of Steve McCurry. Patagonia Revisited (1985) is based on a discussion between Bruce Chatwin and Theroux of Patagonia's influence on literature. Sunrise with Seamonsters: Travels and Discoveries (1985) is a collection of Theroux's articles and essays between 1964 and 1984.
Riding The Iron Rooster (1988) chronicles Theroux's travels by train through China, and was followed by My Secret History (1989), Chicago Loop (1990), To The Ends of the Earth (1990), Millroy the Magician (1994), The Pillars of Hercules (1995), and My Other Life (1996). In 1997 he wrote Kowloon Tong, a novel about Britain's rule over Hong Kong; and in 1998, Sir Vidia's Shadow, which purports to be a biography of his mentor, VS Naipaul but, as one reviewer puts it, is a "mixture of autobiography, Boswellian chronicle, and poison-pen letter". Fresh Air Fiend was the title of his 2000 collection, a reflection on his life and travel writings. In 2001, he published Hotel Honolulu; followed by Blinding Light (2004); and in 2007, a collection of three short stories, The Elephanta Suite.
In 1977, Theroux won an award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Geographic Society in Britain; and holds honorary doctorates in literature from Trinity College in Washington and Tufts University in Medford, Theroux's hometown.
He currently divides his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii, where he lives with his second wife.
This biography was last updated on 08/25/2011.
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An Interview with Paul Theroux
You taught in Africa in the early 1960s. Why did you decide to return after almost 40 years?
Since leaving Africa in October 1968 I thought of the places I had worked, the people I had known, and the hope we all had. I constantly thought: What happened? I longed to return, and I thought I would do it in the year I turned 60. My book represents one mans road. Another person could take the same trip and would have different experiences. Thats a truism, of course. This trip was special to mebecause the road was in part Memory Laneand because I loved the challenges. There is nothing in the world more vitalizing to me that traveling in the African bush.
It is wonderful for a teacher to meet a former student and see that he or she is gainfully employedperhaps as a teacher; and is a responsible parent and homeowner. This happened to me in Malawi and Ugandawonderful memories. My old friend Apolo Nsibambiwe used to drink and argue in the 1960sis now Prime Minister of Uganda. I loved seeing him after 30 years. The passage of time is more dramatic in Africaamazing to witness its effects, for I first set foot...
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