Paul Theroux is described by writer and friend Jonathan Raban as “utterly American, possessing all of those democratic, Yankee, can do qualities.” These traits have served him well on explorations around the world for over fifty years, pen in hand, always with an eye for odd, compelling detail. Readers depend on his uncompromising, sometimes brazen reportage; audiences remember him for his witty, acerbic asides and the tremendous breadth of literature he brings to bear. Theroux is an avid, impassioned reader and literary scholar. His relentless enthusiasm for the pursuit of new discoveries and an abiding respect and affection for his readers and audience are abundantly evident in person.
“…it’s like a friendship [with the reader],” Theroux says.
“…A bond develops if you write a lot of books.”
Such qualities have served him well in his long career, fueling a prodigious output of books-more than 47 works of travel writing, short-story collections, novels, criticism and children’s literature since he published his first book, the novel Waldo, in 1967.
“Theroux novels are neither apologia nor accusation; wit is his rare medium, and that lays bare both. He is a large, lively, outrageous talent.” -Nadine Gordimer
He is recipient of the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award for literature, the Whitbread Prize for his novel Picture Palace, and the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast, which was also nominated for the American Book Award along with his earlier travel book The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas. His novels Saint Jack, The Mosquito Coast, Doctor Slaughter and Half Moon Street have all been made into films; and his short-story collection London Embassy (1982) was adapted for a British mini-series in 1987.
Many of Theroux’s novels are set in exotic locations around the world-both real and imagined-and are inspired by his own prolific travels, which he also chronicles in his highly distinguished body of nonfiction. With the publication of The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia and The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux established himself as America’s foremost travel writer. His latest work of nonfiction, The Tao of Travel, is an exploration of travel writing; it combines excepts from his own work with those from the seminal books that influenced him.
“Theroux may be one of our most prolific travel writers, but he is also one of our best. The reason for this, I think, is his ability to convey the optimism of travel while refusing to tell lies about what he encounters. You feel hopeful when you read him, and you feel that you’re being told the truth, and that’s a good enough reason to stay with him.” -Carolyn Sylge, New Statesman
Theroux’s latest novel, The Lower River, is inspired by his own chilling experience while in the Peace Corps. It the story of Ellis Hock, who flees his sputtering marriage and career for the warmth of Malawi, a country he remembers fondly from a visit as a young man. Upon arrival, he finds his once peaceful village now ravaged by poverty and AIDS, with the villagers relying on deception to survive.
Born in 1941, in Massachusetts, Theroux began his travels in earnest after he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. He has lived, taught and written around the world, including Urbino, Italy; the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa; Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; the University of Singapore; and the United Kingdom. He currently lives between Maine and Hawaii. In addition to his books, Theroux has published articles in many magazines, including Time, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Talk, GQ and Esquire.
Selected Nonfiction Books
- The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road (Houghton, 2011)
- Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Houghton, 2008)
- The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean (Putnam, 1995)
- Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China (Putnam, 1989)
- Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents (Houghton, 1988)
- The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey around Great Britain (Houghton, 1985)
- The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas (Houghton, 1979)
- The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia (Houghton, 1975)
Selected Fiction Books
- The Lower River (Houghton, 2012)
- A Dead Hand (Houghton, 2010)
- The Elephanta Suite: Three Novellas (Houghton, 2007)
- Blinding Light (Houghton, 2005)
- Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Houghton, 2003)
- Kowloon Tong (Houghton, 1997)
- My Other Life (Houghton, 1996)
- My Secret History (Putnam, 1989)
- Half Moon Street: Two Short Novels (Houghton, 1984)
- Doctor Slaughter (Hamish Hamilton, 1984)
- The Mosquito Coast (Houghton, 1982)
- Picture Palace (Houghton, 1978)
- Fellow, Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Geographic Society in Britain
- 2011 National Magazine Award in Fiction for “Minor Watt”
- 1989 Thomas Cook Travel Book Prize
- 1983 Finalist, American Book Award for The Mosquito Coast
- 1981 Finalist, American Book Award for The Old Patagonian Express
- 1978 Whitbread Prize for Best Novel for Picture Palace
- 1977 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature
Author’s photo by William Furniss
Details of this year’s festival programme can be found elsewhere on this website.