Paul Auster turns 75: The New York storyteller

Status: 03.02.2022 07:32

His “New York Trilogy” made him famous. In addition to numerous novels, he also wrote screenplays – and now also a non-fiction book. At the age of 75, the US writer Paul Auster is not thinking about retirement.

By Peter Mücke, ARD Studio New York

Paul Auster is fascinated by the power of chance. This motif runs through his entire work. This is abundantly clear in his last novel “4 3 2 1”, which tells a life in four different versions and which – not coincidentally this time – resembles his own. Auster is also a descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who grew up in Newark, New Jersey – and is now 75 years old.

“I’m grateful that I had so many years,” says Auster. “And I hope that I have a few more years to come. But we’ll see.” It could also be over today. He has no idea.

A new novel is already in the works

The master of random twists respects chance. And so Auster prefers to be careful. The omicron wave has New York in its grip. This time, he prefers to conduct the interview – which he usually likes to invite to his home in Park Slope, Brooklyn – over the phone.

“Just before the call, I had to think of something that’s funny and sad,” says Auster. “When I was younger, I had close friends who were 20, 25 years older than me. At some point these men came back from the toilet and forgot to button their fly. I always thought, poor man Guy’s getting old. It’s the beginning of the end. And over the last two years I’ve found that it’s been happening to me more and more often. I guess it’s a sign that I’m getting really old now.”

Even at the age of 75 Auster does not want to retire.

Image: dpa

But Auster is not thinking about retirement. He has just published his first non-fiction book: A hymn to the forgotten US author Stephen Crane. In the summer he completed a lengthy essay on gun violence in the United States. And a new novel is already in the works. It didn’t look like Auster would be successful with the writing for a long time.

I think City of Glass, the first part of the New York Trilogy, turned down 17 publishers. That was a crucial moment in my life. Instead of despairing, I kept writing. When I was already on the third volume, a small publisher found itself. Not in New York, but in Los Angeles. And so the “New York Trilogy” was published in California, which is pretty bizarre.

Breakthrough at age 40

Contrary to all expectations, the experimental crime stories of the trilogy were a great success. The breakthrough for the then 40-year-old Auster, who had previously only published a few small volumes of poetry. With novels such as “Mr. Vertigo” or “The Book of Illusions” he became a celebrated bestseller author who is still more popular in Europe than in the USA. His stories are often set in Brooklyn, where he has lived with his second wife, Norwegian-American writer Siri Hustvedt, for nearly 50 years:

I’ve had my share of tragedies, troubles and disappointments in life. But throughout, my work and love for Siri have kept me afloat. I’m really grateful that I found her. And the work I love.

This included films like “Smoke” and “Blue in the Face,” about a small tobacco shop in Brooklyn, for which Auster wrote the screenplays. Or “Lulu on the Bridge”, which he also directed. But he’s done with the film. Too complicated, he says. He wants to write the time he has left. And get involved in politics.

Auster is committed to Trump

If things continue like this, Trump will stand again in the next elections. And even if he loses, all hell breaks loose. “It won’t be as easy as it was when the Capitol was stormed on January 6,” says Auster. “It’s really going to be something like a civil war in the United States.”

Even before the 2020 presidential election, Auster and other writers founded the Writers Against Trump initiative, now called Writers for Democratic Action. The aim is to motivate as many people as possible to vote in order to prevent the worst from happening.

“I’m not particularly optimistic,” says Auster. “But I haven’t given up yet either. We have to fight now so that this country has a future. We have rolled up our sleeves and are doing everything we can, no matter how little it is.”

The New York Storyteller – Paul Auster turns 75

Peter Mücke, ARD New York, February 3, 2022 6:33 a.m

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