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Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an American author. With nearly 50 published works over a 50-year span, Charyn has a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life, writing in multiple genres.
Charyn's first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, was published in 1964. With Blue Eyes (1975), the debut of detective character Isaac Sidel, Charyn attracted wide attention and acclaim. As of 2017, Charyn has published 37 novels, three memoirs, nine graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Charyn was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in Fiction, 1983. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letter (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) by the French Minister of Culture.
In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn's book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong."
Charyn was born in the Bronx to Sam and Fanny (Paley) Charyn. In order to escape its mean streets, Charyn immersed himself in comic books and cinema. Books were scarce in the Charyn household, save for volume "A" of the Book of Knowledge. After becoming all too well versed in astronomy and aardvarks, Charyn hungered for more. He attended The High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, majoring in painting. Turning from painting to literature, Charyn enrolled at Columbia University, where he studied history and comparative literature with a focus on Russian literature, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and cum laude (BA, 1959).
Charyn serves on the advisory board of the Laboratoire d'Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone (LERMA), a research centre at Aix-Marseille University.
Charyn often returns to his native Bronx in many of his writings, including a book appropriately named El Bronx. Michael Woolf, who wrote Exploding the Genre: The Crime Fiction of Jerome Charyn, says of Charyn: "Of all the novelists characterized as Jewish-American, Charyn is the most radical and inventive. There is in the body of his work a restless creativity which constantly surprises and repeatedly undermines the reader's expectation."
One of Charyn's best-known protagonists is Isaac Sidel, a Jewish New York police detective turned mayor, who is the subject of eleven crime novels, including Blue Eyes and Citizen Sidel. Charyn became interested in writing a crime novel after discovering Ross Macdonald's The Galton Case (1959). What impressed Charyn most was narrative voice of sleuth Lew Archer--at once sympathetic and detached, who "deliver[s] both a landscape and a past without least hint of sentimentality." The experiences of Charyn's brother, Harvey, an NYPD homicide detective, added authenticity to this popular series, which attracted a cult following worldwide. After the limited success of his earlier works, Charyn considered publishing the first Sidel novel under what he described as the Marrano pen name of Joseph da Silva (i.e., to obscure his Jewish origins), but was convinced by his agent to use his birth name.
The ten books were translated into seven languages and remained in print for three decades. In 1991, Charyn co-produced and co-wrote a TV pilot starring Ron Silver as The Good Policemen. More recently, in April, 2012, Otto Penzler, founder of Mysterious Press, reissued the entire series as eBooks, co-published by Open Road Media. The October, 2012, publication of Under the Eye of God, the first new Sidel thriller in a decade, rebooted the series ahead of a planned adult animated TV drama, to be titled Hard Apple.
Charyn's books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Chinese and 11 other languages. Charyn served as judge for the 2011 National Book Awards in Fiction. He is represented by the literary agency headed by Georges Borchardt.
The publication of his 2010 novel The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson (W.W. Norton) stirred a great deal of controversy. Some critics felt that Charyn was much too brazen in writing in poet Emily Dickinson's voice and surrounding her with invented characters. The New York Times said this "fits neatly into the flourishing genre of literary body-snatching." In the San Francisco Chronicle, the novel was called a "bodice-ripper."
Other critics saw the work as a magical tour de force. Joyce Carol Oates, writing in The New York Review of Books, said: "Of literary sleights of hand none is more exhilarating for the writer, as none is likely to be riskier, than the appropriation of another--classic--writer's voice." In the Globe and Mail, reviewer William Kowalski wrote: "I had hoped that there was someone like Dickinson out there. My one regret, after finding her, was that I would never get to make her acquaintance. No doubt millions of others feel the same. It's for us that Jerome Charyn has written this book."
In The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, Charyn attempts to bring America's greatest female poet to life by transforming himself into Emily Dickinson. Assuming her voice, he narrates Dickinson's "secret life" to the reader, delving into her childhood, romantic involvements, even her final illness and death.
On May 1, 2011, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson was named a "Must-Read" book by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and selected as finalist for its annual book award in the fiction category. The French edition of his novel, titled la vie secrète d'emily dickinson, was released by Rivages in 2013,
Charyn says he drew inspiration for his novel from Emily Dickinson's letters and poems. He sayd of Dickinson: "I am fascinated by her writing and the kind of power she had. Where it came from, I don't think we'll ever know."
In 2007 Charyn was asked by the literary website Smyles and Fish, along with lifelong friend, novelist Frederic Tuten, to write an essay about their former colleague and friend Donald Barthelme. The project evolved into a lengthy article, which offers a sort of collage of these three writers and the world of their influences. The work is divided into three parts - an introductory essay on the project by editor-in-chief Iris Smyles, Charyn's essay on Barthelme, and Tuten's piece My Autobiography: Portable with Images. The work also features photos of the three writers and their work, as well as quotes from Barthelme himself.
Charyn has lived in Greenwich Village, the Bronx, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, California, Houston, Austin, Texas, Paris and Barcelona. He currently divides his time between New York and Paris. During 14 years living in Paris and teaching at the American University, he resisted mastering the French language, fearful of its effect on "the rhythm [of my native speech], even though French words creep into your vocabulary. I don't want my music interfered with."
Isaac Sidel series
Blue Eyes, Simon & Schuster, 1975
Marilyn the Wild, Arbor House, 1976
The Education of Patrick Silver, Arbor House, 1976
Secret Isaac, Arbor House, 1978
The Good Policeman, Mysterious Press, 1990
Maria's Girls, Warner Books, 1992
Montezuma's Man, Warner Books, 1993
Little Angel Street, Warner Books, 1995
El Bronx, Warner Books, 1997
Citizen Sidel, Mysterious Press, 1999
Under the Eye of God, Mysterious Press and Open Road Media, 2012
Winter Warning: An Isaac Sidel Novel, Pegasus Books, October, 2017
The Isaac Quartet, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002 (Omnibus of the first four Sidel novels)
Once upon a Droshky, McGraw-Hill, 1964
On the Darkening Green, McGraw-Hill, 1965
The Man Who Grew Younger, Harper & Row, 1967
Going To Jerusalem, Viking, 1967
American Scrapbook, Viking, 1969
Eisenhower, My Eisenhower, Holt, 1971
The Tar Baby, Holt, 1973
The Franklin Scare, Arbor House, 1977
The Seventh Babe, Arbor House, 1979
The Catfish Man, Arbor House, 1980
Darlin' Bill, Arbor House, 1980
Panna Maria, Arbor House, 1982
Pinocchio's Nose, Arbor House, 1983
War Cries Over Avenue C, Donald I. Fine, 1985
Paradise Man, Donald I. Fine, 1987
Elsinore, Warner Books, 1991
Back to Bataan, Farrar, Straus (for younger readers), 1993
Death of a Tango King, New York University Press, 1998
Captain Kidd, St. Martin's Press, 1999
Hurricane Lady, Warner Books, 2001
The Green Lantern, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004
Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution, W.W.Norton, 2008
The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, W.W.Norton, 2010
Family Man, art by Joe Staton, lettering by Ken Bruzenak, Paradox Press, 1995
Metropolis: New York as Myth, Marketplace and Magical Land, Putnam's, 1986
Translated and adapted into French by Cécile Bloc-Rodot - New York : Chronique d'une ville sauvage, coll. Découvertes Gallimard (nº 204), Paris: Gallimard, 1994 (also translated into Spanish, Italian, Korean and simplified Chinese, as translated from the French version)
Movieland: Hollywood and the Great American Dream Culture, Putnam's, 1989, New York University Press, 1996
The Dark Lady from Belorusse, St. Martin's Press, 1997
Hemingway : Portrait de l'artiste en guerrier blessé, coll. Découvertes Gallimard (nº 371), Paris: Gallimard, 1999
Trad. into traditional Chinese by Ch?ên Li-ch?ing - Hai Ming Wei: Shang hên lei lei tê wên hsüeh lao ping, collection "Fa hsien chih lü" (vol. 57), Taipei: China Times Publishing, 2001
The Black Swan, St. Martin's Press, 2000
Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins: Ping-Pong and the Art of Staying Alive, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001
Video on YouTube: Charyn discusses chaos and the Bronx, and ping-pong, which inspired his Isaac Sidel crime novel series; the 11th is Under the Eye of God (Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, October, 2012)
Video on YouTube: Charyn discusses Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe and his biographical study Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil (Yale University Press, March 2011)
Video on YouTube: Charyn discusses Emily Dickinson and critical reaction to his novel The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson (W. W. Norton, 2010). (TRT 3:09 min.)
Video: Charyn discusses Emily Dickinson at Harvard Bookstore, NPR Forum Network Free Lecture (March, 2010)
Video on YouTube: Charyn discusses his youth in the Bronx, his love for Paris, and his novel Johnny One-Eye (W. W. Norton, 2008)
Video on YouTube: Director Naomi Gryn goes back to the Bronx with authors Jerome Charyn and Frederic Tuten (originally broadcast on Channel 4, BBC, 1993)