MILESTONE: Last Great American Novel Turns 20

infinite jest


HARRY RANSOM CENTER: Twenty years ago, in February of 1996, Little, Brown and Company published David Foster Wallace’s (1962–2008) novel Infinite Jest. It was a bold undertaking for the firm to publish a complex, challenging novel that spans over 1,000 pages and contains hundreds of endnotes, many quite lengthy and all printed in very small type. The sheer size of the book required thatDavid Foster Wallace Newsweek it be sold for $30, an unorthodox price for any novel, let alone a second novel by a young, up-and-coming author.

Wallace began seriously writing Infinite Jest in 1991. The publication of the book took years of hard work not only from Wallace but from his agent Bonnie Nadell, his editor Michael Pietsch, and others who read and supported the book’s development in one way or another. Evidence of this hard work can be found throughout David Foster Wallace’s archive and in other related collections at the Harry Ransom Center.

While working on the novel, Wallace shared his early drafts with his editor, Michael Pietsch. Pietsch read and reread the manuscripts diligently, offering astute advice that helped tighten and clarify the narrative. Pietsch was encouraging but also practical. In a letter he wrote to Wallace on June 10, 1993, he voiced concern about the book’s length: “This should not be a $30 novel so thick readers feel they have to clear their calendars for a month before they can buy it.” Yet it’s apparent that Pietsch found the novel deeply moving and compelling. In a later letter to Wallace, the editor noted, “publishing this novel has probably been the most satisfying and exciting work I’ve ever gotten to do.” MORE


RELATED: The David Foster Wallace Archive @ The University Of Texas Austin

PREVIOUSLY: Jeff Deeney’s Elegy For David Foster Wallace

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