Fiction Writer · Stage & Screen Artist
Born October 17, 1903, New York, New York
Died December 22, 1940, El Centro, California
[Nathanael West was] the chief neglected talent of [his] age..-Leslie Fiedler
Although Nathanael West's fiction garnered some praise from the few critics who noticed it, the general public ignored him; West observed that he only earned $700 selling his novels. Since West's death, however, scholars and fellow novelists alike have recognized the importance of his fiction. A satirist, West's parodies of Western civilization are tinged with surrealism. In a voice shaped by the poverty and despair of the Great Depression, West portrayed in A Cool Million and Miss Lonelyhearts the depravity and helplessness of poverty and loneliness. Typically, West's characters are so grotesquely tragic as to appear comic. In order to support himself, however modestly, West also wrote screenplays in Hollywood between 1936 and 1940. Earlier, he had made a living managing hotels in New York City, where he often provided rooms free of charge to authors he admired in order to enjoy their company. Born Nathan Weinstein in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants, he changed his name in 1926 as part of an ongoing attempt to recreate his identity. West was killed in a car accident on December 22, 1940; his bride, Eileen McKenny, the inspiration for the popular play My Sister Eileen, died at his side.