American novelist Don DeLillo was born on November 20, 1936, in New York City, the son of Italian immigrant parents, and was raised in a mostly Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. His early interest in reading was stimulated when as an eighteen-year-old he took a job as a parking attendant, and he filled in the hours reading books by William Faulkner, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.
DeLillo attended Fordham University in New York, graduating in 1958 with a degree in communication arts. He once reported in an interview that one of the greatest influences on him was simply the teeming life of New York City. Other influences when he was young included paintings in the Museum of Modern Art, jazz, films by European directors such as Fellini, Godard and Howard Hawks, and the writings of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.
In the 1960s DeLillo worked for five years as a copywriter at a New York advertising agency, only because he could not get a job in publishing. During this time he was writing short stories in his spare time. He quit his job in 1964, and around 1966 began his first novel, also working as a freelance writer in order to make a living. That novel, Americana, which took nearly four years to write, was published in 1971. Several novels followed in quick succession: End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street (1973), Ratner’s Star (1976), Players (1977), and Running Dog (1978).
In the late 1970s Don DeLillo lived with his wife Barbara Bennett, whom he married in 1975, in Greece, also traveling to the Middle East and India. During his travels he wrote The Names (1982). Up to this point DeLillo was not a best-selling author. His novels won praise from reviewers but did not attract large numbers of readers. This changed with the publication of White Noise in 1985. The novel won the National Book Award and wide readership. It later became one of the few novels written in the 1980s that are regularly taught in college literature courses.
DeLillo’s next novel was Libra (1988), a fictionalized telling of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963. This novel met with great praise from critics and was nominated for the National Book Award. DeLillo’s tenth novel, Mao II, which ranged over such themes as writing, terrorism, power, and media images, followed in 1991. Underworld (1997), a massive, 827-page novel, proved to be DeLillo’s greatest success to date. Set during the Cold War and its aftermath, Underworld was a bestseller and was nominated for the National Book Award. Critics began to rank DeLillo alongside Thomas Pynchon as the greatest of postmodern American writers.
In 1999, DeLillo was awarded the Jerusalem Prize. His next novels were The Body Artist (2001) and Cosmopolis (2003). His most recent work, as of 2008, is Falling Man (2007), about a survivor of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.