Known for his authentic, honest prose, Tobias Wolff made his mark on the writing world with his acclaimed work as a memoirist and a short-story writer. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, widely considered his best work, explores Wolff’s teenage years as he traveled around the country with his divorced mother and an abusive stepfather. “Tobias Wolff’s portrayal of his stepfather (a portrait notably free of bitterness and condemnation) makes it clear how widely child abuse can range without ever, or rarely ever, crossing the line into physical brutality and how gleefully an adult can labor at obliterating what’s most vital about a child,” Francine Prose wrote in a review for the New York Times. Screenwriter Robert Getchell adapted the dark memoir into a 1993 film that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Wolff a National Medal of Arts.
In addition to being a master of memoir and short-form writing, Wolff earned a reputation from identifying and nurturing talent. From 1980 to 1987, he worked as a writer-in-residence and professor in SU’s graduate creative writing program, helping to elevate the program’s reputation. Authors who count Wolff as a former teacher and mentor include George Saunders, Jay McInerney, and Alice Sebold.
Here is an excerpt from This Boy’s Life: A Memoir:
“Knowing that everything comes to an end is a gift of experience, a consolation gift for knowing that we ourselves are coming to an end. Before we get it we live in a continuous present, and imagine the future as more of that present. Happiness is endless happiness, innocent of its own sure passing. Pain is endless pain.”
— Kaitlyn Frey