By Dr. Russell A.
Originally written for the English Wikipedia in 2006; some parts of this entry may still survive there, and are here licensed under GFDL
Steven Millhauser is
perhaps one of modern American fiction's most elusive characters. When his
novel, Martin Dressler, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1997, Millhauser
told an interviewer that it would not change his life one bit - "I dare it
to," he was quoted as saying. The prize brought many of his older books
back into print. As the patina of the prize faded however, they slowly
retreated from the shelves and back into the hands of the small but devoted
following he has always enjoyed.
Although Millhauser was
born in 1943 in New York City, he grew up in Connecticut. He received a B.A.
from Columbia University in 1965, and went on to pursue a doctorate in English
at Brown University. He never completed his dissertation, but did complete a large, rambling novel
-- eventually published in a pared-down form under the title From the Realm of Morpheus
-- as well as Edwin Mullhouse.
Until the Pulitzer,
Millhauser was best known for Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (Knopf, 1972). This remarkable
novel, in which the fictional Cartwright plays Boswell to Edwin's Johnson, a
writer whose career ends abruptly with his death at the tender age of 11,
brought wide critical acclaim. Millhauser continued to ply his craft, following
Edwin Mullhouse with Portrait of a Romantic (1977), and his first collection of
short stories, In The Penny Arcade, in 1986. It was for his stories that
Millhauser has become most admired; immaculately written, curiously vivid, they trod
on fantastic boards in a manner reminiscent of Poe or Borges, but with a
distinctively American voice. In them, mechanical cowboys at penny arcades come
to life; curious amusement parks, museums, or catacombs beckon with secret
passageways and walking automata; dreamers dream and children fly out
their windows at night on magic carpets.
continued with The Barnum Museum (1990), Little Kingdoms (1993), and The Knife
Thrower and Other Stories (1998). The unexpected success of Martin Dressler in
1997 brought Millhauser to the attention of a new generation of readers. In
2006, the film The Illusionist, based on Millhauser's short story
"Eisenheim the Illusionist", was released. It was directed by Neil
Burger and stars Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton; while it adds a new plot-line, the episodes representing Eisenheim's illusions are faithfully represented.
Steven Millhauser lives
in Saratoga Springs, New York, and teaches at Skidmore College.