Jonathan Safran Foer (born February 21, 1977) is an American novelist. He is best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated (2002), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2005), and for his non-fiction work Eating Animals (2009). His most recent novel, Here I Am, was published in 2016. He teaches creative writing at New York University.
Foer was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Albert Foer, a lawyer and president of the American Antitrust Institute, and Esther Safran Foer, a child of Holocaust survivors born in Poland, who is now Senior Advisor at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Foer is the middle son in this Jewish family; his older brother, Franklin, is a former editor of The New Republic and his younger brother, Joshua, is the founder of Atlas Obscura. Foer was a "flamboyant" and sensitive child who, at the age of 8, was injured in a classroom chemical accident that resulted in "something like a nervous breakdown drawn out over about three years," during which "he wanted nothing, except to be outside his own skin."
Foer attended Georgetown Day School and in 1994 traveled to Israel with other North American Jewish teenagers in a program sponsored by Bronfman youth fellowships. In 1995, while a freshman at Princeton University, he took an introductory writing course with author Joyce Carol Oates, who took an interest in his writing, telling him that he had "that most important of writerly qualities, energy." Foer later recalled that "she was the first person to ever make me think I should try to write in any sort of serious way. And my life really changed after that." Oates served as the advisor to Foer's senior thesis, an examination of the life of his maternal grandfather, the Holocaust survivor Louis Safran. For his thesis, Foer received Princeton's Senior Creative Writing Thesis Prize.
Foer graduated from Princeton in 1999 with a degree in philosophy, and traveled to Ukraine to expand his thesis. In 2001, he edited the anthology A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, to which he contributed the short story, "If the Aging Magician Should Begin to Believe". His Princeton thesis grew into a novel, Everything Is Illuminated, which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2002. The book earned him a National Jewish Book Award (2001) and a Guardian First Book Award (2002). Foer shared the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize with fellow authors Will Heinrich and Monique Truong in 2004. In 2005, Liev Schreiber wrote and directed a film adaptation of the novel, which starred Elijah Wood.
Foer's second novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, was published in 2005. In it, Foer used 9/11 as a backdrop for the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell, who learns how to deal with the death of his father in the World Trade Center. The novel used writing techniques known as visual writing. It follows multiple but interconnected storylines, is peppered with photographs of doorknobs and other such oddities, and ends with a 14-page flipbook. Foer's use of these techniques resulted in both praise and excoriation from critics. Warner Bros. and Paramount turned the novel into a film, produced by Scott Rudin and directed by Stephen Daldry.
In 2005, Foer wrote the libretto for an opera titled Seven Attempted Escapes From Silence, which premiered at the Berlin State Opera on September 14, 2005. In 2006, he recorded the narration for the documentary If This is Kosher..., an exposé of the kosher certification process that advocates Jewish vegetarianism.
In spring 2008, Foer taught writing for the first time as a visiting professor of fiction at Yale University. He is currently a writer-in-residence in the graduate creative writing program at New York University. Foer published his third novel, Tree of Codes, in November 2010. In March 2012, The New American Haggadah, edited by him and translated by Nathan Englander, was released to mixed reviews.
In 2009, Foer published his third book, Eating Animals. A New York Times bestseller, Eating Animals provides a morally dense discussion of some of the ramifications that followed the proliferation of factory farms. It attempts to explain why and how humans can be so loving to our companion animals while simultaneously being indifferent to others, and explores what this inconsistency tells us about ourselves―what kinds of stories emerge from this selectivity. The book offers a significant focus on “storytelling”―the title of both the first and the last chapters of the book. Storytelling is Foer’s way of recognizing and dealing with the complexity of the subject that is eating animals, and suggests that, ultimately, our food choices tell stories about who we are, or, as Foer has it in his book, “stories about food are stories about us―our history and our values.”
Foer also serves as a board member for Farm Forward, a nonprofit organization that implements innovative strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farmed animal suffering, and advance sustainable agriculture.
He has been an occasional vegetarian since the age of 10, and in 2006 he recorded the narration for the documentary If This is Kosher..., an exposé of the kosher certification process that advocates Jewish vegetarianism. In his childhood, teen, and college years, he called himself vegetarian but still often ate meat. Foer's first book of non-fiction, Eating Animals, was published on November 2, 2009. He said that he had long been "uncertain about how I felt [about eating meat]" and that the birth of his first child inspired "an urgency because I would have to make decisions on his behalf".
In June 2004, Foer married writer Nicole Krauss. They lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, and have two children. The couple separated amicably in 2014 and now live in different homes elsewhere in Brooklyn, in proximity to one another.
Because of Foer's frequent use of modernist literary devices, some view him as a polarizing figure in modern literature. In his critical article "Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False," Harry Siegel wrote in the New York Press, "Foer is supposed to be our new Philip Roth, though his fortune-cookie syllogisms and pointless illustrations and typographical tricks don't at all match up to or much resemble Roth even at his most inane." The Huffington Post contributor Anis Shivani included him in his list of the fifteen most overrated modern American writers.
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