Jonathan Safran Foer (born February 21, 1977) is a writer. He is best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated (2002) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005). In 2009, he published a work of nonfiction titled Eating Animals. While Foer's works have been released to widespread critical acclaim, he remains somewhat of a polarizing figure amongst contemporary critics and academics, attracting in equal measure both passionate praise and criticism. Foer currently teaches creative writing at New York University.
Jonathan Safran Foer was born in 1977 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 who was born in Poland and is now the Director & CEO of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Foer is the middle son in this tight-knit Jewish family; his older brother, Franklin, is the former editor of The New Republic and his younger brother Joshua is a freelance journalist. 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 Princeton University. In 1995, while a freshman at Princeton, Safran Foer 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 Safran 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.
After graduating from Princeton, Foer attended briefly the Mount Sinai School of Medicine before dropping out to pursue his writing career.
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 and a Guardian First Book Award. Foer shared the PEN/Robert Bingham Award 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 and Incredibly Close, was published in 2005. In the novel, 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. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close used many nontraditional 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 glowing praise and excoriation from critics. Despite diverse criticism, the novel sold briskly and was translated into several languages. In addition, Warner Bros. and Paramount turned the novel into a film, produced by Scott Rudin, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader).
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.
Foer has been an occasional vegetarian (some years vegetarian, some years omnivore, occasionally vegan) since the age of 10, and in 2006 he recorded the narration for the documentary If This is Kosher..., a harsh exposé of the kosher certification process that advocates Jewish vegetarianism. In his childhood, teen, and college years of vegetarianism, he called himself vegetarian but still often ate animals. Foer writes he is now a vegetarian. He does not mention being vegan in his writings. Foer published his first book of non-fiction, Eating Animals, on November 2, 2009. Foer 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." The book intersperses a personal narrative with a more "broad argument" about vegetarianism.
In spring 2008, Foer taught writing for the first time as a visiting professor of fiction at Yale University. He is currently a professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and 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 May 2012 Foer signed a new two-book deal with Little, Brown and that Foer's fourth novel, entitled Escape From Children's Hospital, is due for publication in 2014. Advance word on the novel has said that the novel will be "a fictionalised account of when an explosion in a summer camp science class left Safran Foer’s best friend without skin on his face or hands, leaving the author unscathed by inches." Foer's U.K. publishers Penguin Books have described the forthcoming novel as "[...] a story about the shared trauma of childhood, the potential destructiveness of storytelling, and the redemptive power of friendship. Weaving precariously between non-fiction and fiction, and existing at the intersection of different styles, the book moves out from that moment in 1985 to the repercussions on the ever-expanding circle of those affected by it." Foer's earliest comment on his first novel was that he was asking, "What actually happened that day? What is a novel capable of? These are the two questions I have been living inside of, and I hope they will answer one another: my novel is what happened that day; and a truthful, experiential telling of that day is what the novel is capable of."
In June 2004, Foer married writer Nicole Krauss. They live in Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, and have two children. Foer is the brother of Franklin Foer, former editor of The New Republic, and writer Joshua Foer, and cousin of television producer Joshua Safran.
In 2000, Foer was awarded the Zoetrope: All-Story Fiction Prize, in 2003 he won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award, and in 2007 he was included in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists 2.
In June 2010, Foer was included in The New Yorker magazine's once-a-decade "20 Under 40" list, a list of twenty writers then under the age of forty that the magazine believes “are or will be key to their generation.” Foer was included alongside the likes of Karen Russell, Gary Shteyngart, Wells Tower, Philipp Meyer, and Joshua Ferris to name a few.
In January 2013, Foer was appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, having been recommended for the council personally by President Barack Obama.
In spite of his success, Foer is viewed by some as a polarizing figure in modern literature, due to his frequent use of modernist literary devices. Harry Siegel of the New York Press, titled an article on Foer "Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False," highlighting the flaws in his style: "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." Anis Shivani included him in his list of the fifteen most overrated modern American writers.