Michael Chabon biography

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Michael Chabon
Photo: Fish Fong

Michael Chabon

How to pronounce Michael Chabon: SHAY-bun

Michael Chabon Biography

Novelist, screenwriter, columnist and short story writer Michael Chabon was born May 24, 1963 in Washington, DC.   He grew up in the suburbs of Columbia, Maryland with his parents Robert, a physician, lawyer, and hospital administrator, and Sharon, a lawyer. His parents divorced when he was about 11, and Michael Chabon lived with his mother. He grew up reading comic books and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer.  In 1984 he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English.  In 1987, he received a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Irvine.  His master's thesis was the novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a coming-of-age story about a man caught between romances with a man on one side, a woman on the other, and the shadow of his gangster father over it all.  Apparently Chabon never intended to publish it but his professor, thinking it so good, secretly sent the manuscript to an agent.  The book not only found a publisher but Chabon was awarded an advance of $155,000.  At the time this was the highest figure ever paid for a first novel by a young, unknown fiction writer.  The book was published with a six-figure first printing and earned a place on the bestseller lists.

Looking back on his early success some years later (in 2001), Chabon reflected that the "the upside [to my early success] 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." 

Chabon's first marriage, to poet Lollie Groth, ended in 1991.   At the time he was struggling with his sophomore novel called Fountain City.  At one point he submitted a 672-page draft to his editor who disliked it, but Chabon was reluctant to drop the novel as he'd already signed a contract and half of his advance had gone to his ex-wife.   Eventually, he decided to abandon the novel and, after staring at a blank computer screen for hours, started to write The Wonder Boys, in which an author is hopelessly stuck writing his endless, shapeless novel  He completed The Wonder Boys in just seven months without telling his agent that he had stopped work on Fountain CityThe Wonder Boys was published in 1995 and was made into a movie in 2000. 

Inspired by Jonathan Yardley's review in The Washington Post, in which Yardley praised The Wonder Boys but suggested that it was time that Chabon took "the next step up", Chabon started on The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,  the story of two young, Jewish comic book artists in the 1940s that blended the world of comic books, the impact of World War II and the lives of his characters. It won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. 

In 2002 he published Summerland, a fantasy novel for younger readers.  In 2004 he published The Final Solution, a mystery starring an elderly Sherlock Holmes.

Between 1987 and 1990 he published a number of short stories, mostly in The New Yorker, but also in Gentleman's Quarterly and Mademoiselle. Some of these are collected in A Model World (1991), a second set of short stories, Werewolves in their Youth, was published in 1999.  Chabon has also written a number of pieces for DC Comics, and co-wrote the story for Spider-Man 2.

From Jan to May 2007, a 15-part serialized novel, Gentlemen of the Road, ran in the New York Times Magazine; Chabon describes it as "a swashbuckling adventure story set around the year 1000". It was released in book form in 2007. In May 2007 he published The Yiddish Policeman's Union. In 2012 Telegraph Avenue and in 2016 Moonglow.

Chabon lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their four children.

Michael Chabon's website

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Interview

Michael Chabon discusses his life-long interest in comic books which inspired him to write The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

What was your inspiration for writing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? Did you start with a character, a concept, a plot?

I started writing this book because of a box of comic books that I had been carrying around with me for fifteen years. It was the sole remnant of my once-vast childhood collection. For fifteen years I just lugged it around my life, never opening it. It was all taped up and I left it that way. Then one day, not long after I finished Wonder Boys, I came upon it during a move, and slit open all the layers of packing tape and dust. The smell that emerged was rich and evocative of the vanished world of my four-color childhood imaginings. And I thought, there's a book in this box somewhere.

Where did Josef and Sammy come from? And your decision to set the story against the backdrop of the war--which itself quickly becomes one of the main characters?

Joseph and Sammy grew very quickly out of my initial decision to write a book set during the so-called Golden Age of Comics. ...

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Books by this Author

Books by Michael Chabon at BookBrowse
Moonglow jacket Telegraph Avenue jacket Manhood for Amateurs jacket Gentlemen of the Road jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Michael Chabon 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.
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    If you enjoyed:
    Gentlemen of the Road

    Try:
    Zorro
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  • Tom Bissell

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    If you enjoyed:
    Telegraph Avenue

    Try:
    The Father of All Things
    by Tom Bissell

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