Author Paul Auster, who recently released a new memoir called "Report from the Interior," a companion to his 2012 memoir "Winter Journal," would likely have enjoyed success as a writer no matter where he lived, but New York has been his home since the mid-1960s and has played a critical role in his writing, from his initial success to today. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following profile of Auster in April of 2013.
Paul Auster is the author of more than 30 works of fiction, memoirs, poetry and screenplays.
But all that experience hasn't made his new projects any easier.
"I always feel like I’m starting all over again with each new project, and in a sense, I am," Auster says. "I’ve never written this thing before, so I have to teach myself how to do it the process of doing it."
Paul Auster is a best selling, award winning author and he's known for weaving New York's many neighborhoods into his work.
Auster's most recent book, "Here and Now," is a collection of letters with the Nobel Prize winning writer J.M. Coetzee.
"His response was, 'I hate what I’ve written so much but your part is really good,' and I say to him, 'I hate what I’ve written so much your part is really good,'" Auster says. "It’s just the normal reaction that you get sick of your own work."
In 2012, Auster released "Winter Journal."
He calls it a book of autobiographical fragments. It includes a tale of sliding face first into a nail as a kid and a car accident that he survived with his wife, fellow writer Siri Hustvedt, and their daughter -- an accident that led Auster to give up driving. He also writes about the death of his mother.
"They talk about something called the consolidation of memory, meaning, there is no original memory," Auster says. "Every time you remember an event, you’re remembering the last time you remembered it. And so you can’t ever really go back to the origin."
"Winter Journal" is different from most of Auster's previous works in that he wrote it in the second person.
You might think the completion of a book would bring pure joy to Auster.
You would be wrong.
"It's always a disappointment, I have to say, and I think that’s why you keep going," he says. "But the problem is you know the book too well, so you can’t read it anymore. It’s all gone dead for you."
Auster works in the first floor of his Brooklyn home or in a small apartment nearby. He writes his first draft with a pencil or a pen.
"I need the feeling of the ink coming out of the pen -- I like pressing onto the page," he says. "It’s a very tactile experience."
He types the second draft not on a computer, but on a typewriter.
"I like the silence of this when I’m not typing, no noise whatsoever," Auster says. "But the electric typewriters, it’s just 'zzzz' and it's just that 'Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up' and I don’t want anyone to tell me to hurry up."
The manual typewriter perhaps fits into Auster's view of modern technology. It hasn't changed what he calls, "the basic stuff of being alive."
"We feel pain and we feel pleasure and we fall in love and we hate people and we love people and all that is the same whether you’re communicating with a cell phone or with a telegraph," he says.
Auster grew up primarily in South Orange, N.J. where he was a serious baseball player.
But then he turned 15.
"I discovered alcohol and tobacco and girls," he says.
He also discovered literature, specifically Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment."
"It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I ever had," Auster says. "I remember when I closed the book, I said to myself, 'If this is what novels can be, I want to be a novelist.'"
He started writing and he never stopped, later incorporating many of his real life experiences along the way.
For example, he used the 1967 Newark riots in his novel, "Man in the Dark." At the time, Auster was a student at Columbia. His stepfather was corporation counsel for the city of Newark.
"My stepfather took us to City Hall, and there was Hugh Addonizio, the mayor, sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, tears rolling down his eyes in total despair. [Addonizio said] 'Norman, Norman' -- that was my stepfather -- 'What am I going to do? What am I going to do?'"
After receiving a high draft number and thus avoiding the war in Vietnam, Auster worked for the census bureau in Harlem. In "The New York Trilogy," he wrote about one experience interviewing an elderly black woman.
"She squinted out at me and she said, 'Why you’re not a black boy at all. You’re white,'" Auster says. "I said 'Yea.' She said, 'You’re the first white person ever to set foot in this house.' And so that was all part of the education one gets, young."
He worked as a seaman, lived in France and never stopped writing.
Even after the publication of his early works, there were struggles.
Auster says the first story in "The New York Trilogy," "City of Glass," was repeatedly rejected before it came out in 1987.
"I’m not writing for money, I’m not writing for glory. I’m probably writing for a closet full of unpublished works. But I’m still going to do it, I don’t care," Auster says. "It clarified everything for me and it also gave me a certain kind of mistrust of publishers, critics, everybody."
"I don’t think they know what they’re doing -- they guess," he adds. "And they guess wrong a lot of the time. So the book that was rejected 17 times here is now published in 44 languages around the world. So what did they know?"
Auster no longer struggles to get his books published. But his internal struggles as a writer persist.
"I hope every day that I can write one decent page -- that’s my goal. One page," he says. "If I do two or, miracle of miracles, if I do three, it seems extraordinary."
Eventually the pages add up and have an effect that can be felt all over the world.
"Israel -- a Palestinian prisoner and an Israeli soldier, given the job of guarding this man, they both love my books. And they talked about my books and they became best friends because they could talk about these novels they both read," Auster says. "Now how good is that? Sort of vindicates being a writer, doesn't it?"
Another example was during the war in the Balkans, a leading Bosnian theater director took Auster's dystopian novel, "In the Country of Last Things," and turned it into a play, staging it during the siege of Sarajevo.
"I think this speaks about the power of books to jump across cultures, jump across years and land in somebody’s heart and make a difference," Auster says.