John Wray biography

Author Biography  | Interview  | Books by this Author  | Readalikes

John Wray

John Wray

John Wray Biography

John Wray, whose mother is Austrian and whose father is Californian, was born in Washington, D.C., where his parents, both scientists, were employed by the National Institute of Health. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, and in Friesach, a small town in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia. When he was a boy, his mother began reading Penguin Classics at a rate of exactly one per week, as a way to improve her English: one of his fondest memories of childhood is of having the entirety of The Pickwick Papers read to him at far too young an age, and understanding next to nothing, but loving the sound and mood of it regardless.

In the hope of following his parents into science, Wray majored in biology at Oberlin College, intending to become an ornithologist; in the end, he had to content himself with becoming a birdwatcher. After graduating from college, he worked in Petersburg, Alaska, as a cab driver; in Austin, Texas, as a groundskeeper; and in Manhattan, as tutor in German and Spanish. He dropped out of graduate school twice: first from New York University's M.F.A. program in poetry, where he won an Academy of American Poets Prize, and then, a few years later, from Columbia's fiction program. In between, he played guitar, bass, and drums, respectively, in the bands Marmalade, The King of France, and The Naysayer. In 2002, he spent a year in South America, climbing the Andean peaks Cerro Cuerno, Aconcagua, Antisana, El Altar, and Chimborazo, for a book on mountaineering that never got written.

Wray's first novel, The Right Hand of Sleep, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and won a Whiting Award in Fiction. For his second novel, Canaan's Tongue, he traveled down the Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans on a raft made out of Home Depot surplus, giving readings in towns along the way. Granta magazine selected him as one of the best American novelists under the age of thirty-five. Wray has lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, across the street from the Prospect Park Bandshell. He has no intention of moving.



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Interview

In two separate interviews, one video, one text, John Wray discusses Lowboy, and the challenges of writing a book while riding on the subway.

An interview with John Wray about Lowboy

How does this differ from your earlier work?
Although they differ from each other tremendously, my first two novels could both be categorized as historical, if one felt like applying labels: this time, I wanted to write as contemporary a story as possible, and to tell it as simply as possible. A few years ago, I came across an article in an Australian newspaper, about a manhunt for an escaped prisoner whose antipsychotic medication was wearing off by the hour, and I felt drawn to the subject matter immediately. The material then determined the style and tone—as straightforward and crystalline as possible—the way strong material tends to do.

Why the change?
I’ve always admired film directors, like Stanley Kubrick or Billy Wilder, who could go from directing a thriller to a period piece to a romantic comedy without missing a step. Also, I’ve resisted drawing too directly from my surroundings and personal history in the past, and I wanted to investigate that resistance, to challenge it a little. So I put much more of myself, and of my family and certain childhood memories, into the book. The result makes me somewhat uncomfortable now, but it ...

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Books by this Author

Books by John Wray at BookBrowse
The Lost Time Accidents jacket Lowboy jacket Canaan's Tongue jacket The Right Hand of Sleep jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for John Wray but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Junot Diaz

    Junot Diaz

    A graduate of Rutgers College, Junot Diaz is the author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which won the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Lowboy

    Try:
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
    by Junot Diaz

  • Fernanda Eberstadt

    Fernanda Eberstadt

    Fernanda Eberstadt was born in New York City on November 10, 1960. Her maternal grandfather was the poet Ogden Nash. She is the daughter of the photographer and psychotherapist Frederick Eberstadt, who lives in New York City.... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Lowboy

    Try:
    Rat
    by Fernanda Eberstadt

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