Philipp Meyer

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Philipp Meyer
Born 1974
Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Period 2006-present

Philipp Meyer (born 1974) is an American fiction writer, and is the author of the novels American Rust and The Son, as well as short stories published in McSweeney’s Quarterly, The Iowa Review, and Esquire UK. Meyer is the recipient of a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship.[1] He grew up in Hampden, a blue-collar Baltimore, Maryland, neighborhood often featured in the films of John Waters. His mother is an artist; his father is an electrician turned college biology instructor (Meyer describes them as "counterculture, bohemian intellectuals."[2]). Meyer considers his major literary influences to be "the modernists, basically Woolf, Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, Welty, etc."[3]


Meyer attended the Baltimore City Public Schools system, including Baltimore City College High School, until dropping out at age 16 and getting a GED. He spent the next five years working as a bicycle mechanic and occasionally volunteering at Baltimore's Shock Trauma Center.

At age 20, while taking college classes in Baltimore, Meyer decided to become a writer. He also decided to leave his hometown and at 22, after several attempts at applying to elite colleges, was admitted to Cornell University. Cornell was a hugely positive experience for Meyer, who reflected that “All of the sudden I wasn’t alone, [...] All of the sudden I had tons of friends who were doing interesting shit, who continue to do interesting shit.”[4] During his time at Cornell, Meyer wrote a 600 page novel that he subsequently decided not to try and get published, later dismissing it as "self-indulgent undergrad nonsense"[5] and a "complete turd". Meyer graduated Cornell with a degree in English.


Following graduation, Meyer took a job with the Swiss investment bank UBS in order to pay off student loans. He trained in London and Zurich and was given a position as a derivatives trader. Meyer's describes his experience working in investment backing as being "soul crushing".[4]

After several years at UBS, he wrote most of a novel (no relation to American Rust) and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. When attempts at publishing that novel failed, a book he has called "an apprentice-level work," Meyer took jobs as an emergency medical technician and construction worker. He was preparing for a long-term career as a paramedic when, in 2005, he received a fellowship at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, where he wrote the majority of American Rust.

Random House bought "American Rust" at the end of 2007, midway through Meyer's third year in the program prior to his graduation in 2008.[4] During his time at the Michener Center, Meyer met fellow writer Kevin Powers, whom he would introduce to his literary agent and who would go on to write the acclaimed 2012 Iraq War novel The Yellow Birds.

Not long after arriving in Austin, Meyer drove to New Orleans to do relief work during Hurricane Katrina. He arrived in the middle of the hurricane and spent several days doing emergency medical work for a local police department.[citation needed]

In 2010, Meyer was named in the New Yorker's list '20 under 40', their once every decade list of the 20 writers under the age of 40 that it feels are tipped for great things.[6] In an interview to coincide with the publication of the list and his inclusion on it, Meyer revealed that he was currently working on a second novel concerning "...the rise of a Texas ranching-and-oil dynasty across the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries." Whereas for Meyer American Rust was about that part of America whose time has passed, the part that's on the decline,"[7] the new novel was to be "...about the part of America that is still on the rise."[7]

American Rust[edit]

American Rust was a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2009) among other recognitions. Reviewers in the UK's The Telegraph, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and Dayton Daily News have suggested it fits the category of "Great American Novel."[citation needed] The bulk of American Rust was written during Meyer's time at the Michener Center (2005–2008).

In December 2007 an early version of American Rust was acquired by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint. Between December 2007 and May 2008, Meyer made significant changes to the manuscript, lengthening the book by 30%. Further significant changes were made between the version published as the advanced readers copy (based on the May 2008 manuscript) and the final hardback (based on changes made between May 2008 and October 2008). American Rust was acquired by publishers in sixteen countries and scheduled for translation into eleven languages. It is a third person, stream-of-consciousness narrative influenced, according to Meyer,[citation needed] by writers such as James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and James Kelman. While a reviewer in The Baltimore Sun compared the novel to the work of Faulkner,[citation needed] various other reviewers, including Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, Ron Charles of The Washington Post, and Taylor Antrim writing in The Daily Beast, have favorably compared Meyer to a wide variety of more traditional writers, including Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, and Dennis Lehane.[citation needed]

In 2010, after receiving his Guggenheim Fellowship, Meyer began work on a second novel under the working title American Son.[8]

The Son[edit]

Toward the end of composing American Rust, Meyer realised that he didn't want to repeat himself with his second novel (“I didn’t want to write another novel about the struggling working class,”[9] he recalled). Determined not to repeat himself, Meyer sought to find another subject through which he could explore what he felt was the "creation myth of America."[9]

Meyer's original vision for The Son was quite different from the final novel; the novel Meyer began working on originally featured "six or seven characters”, was "set in the present day", and "was conceived [...] as a book about the rise of a family dynasty and America’s relationship with war and violence."[2] However, after two and a half years working on this version, Meyer realised that "these characters were talking about this legendary guy, and they were commenting on the American myth, in a way. And finally [...] it finally hit me that … I needed the legendary character [Eli McCulloch] in the book."[2]

The inspiration for what eventually became Meyer's second published novel grew out of recalling his time studying for his MFA at the University of Texas, during which Meyer became familiar with the so-called "Bandit War" of 1915-1918, a part of Texas history that Meyer was previously unaware of.[10] Meyer realised there was potential for an interesting novel concerning the Bandit Wars and the "creation myth of Texas"[9] to explore broader historical issues about the development of America as a whole. Subsequently, after American Rust's publication, Meyer began to research Texas history more closely. Meyer has estimated that he read 350 or so books about the history of Texas and diverse topics from captivity narratives to guides on bird tracks [9] in the course of his composition of the novel that eventually would become The Son.[10] Also as part of his research and preparation for the novel, Meyer also went to some extraordinary lengths in order to research and gather historically accurate material for the book. As part of his research, Meyer learned how to tan deer hides, taught himself how to hunt with a bow, spent a month with military contractor Blackwater for firearms training, and shot a Buffalo at a ranch so he could drink its blood - thereby giving him a reference point for Commanche rituals.[5][9]

As Meyer describes it, with The Son, he sought to write "[...] a modernist take on the American creation myth. I didn't want the characters to be mythological figures, the way they're presented to us as kids in movies and in some books."[10] The writing process took five years,[3][11] during which Meyer estimates he discarded or re-drafted many thousands of pages of work, with many passages rewritten 100 times.[5]

In late 2011, Philipp Meyer's official website announced the forthcoming release of The Son, which was subsequently published in May 2013.[12] The Son was described in advanced press as "an epic of Texas",[13] with the plot concerning "three generations of a Texas family: Eli, his son Pete and Pete’s granddaughter Jeanne. Each face their own challenges—Comanche raiders, border wars and a changing civilization, respectively."[14] Meyer has described the novel-in-progress as "[a] partly historical novel about the rise of an oil and ranching dynasty in Texas, tracing the family from the earliest days of white settlement, fifty years of open warfare with the Comanches, the end of the frontier and the rise of the cattle industry, and transitioning into the modern (oil) age. The rise of Texas as a power pretty closely parallels America's rise to global power, for obvious reasons. And I wanted to write about the parts of America that are growing, rather than declining."[15]

Meyer has also said that he has conceived The Son to be the second part of a trilogy of novels that began with American Rust, although there has been as yet no information forthcoming about the third part of this trilogy.[15]

On April 2014, The Son was named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction alongside The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis (the winner of the 2014 fiction prize was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt).[16]

Short stories[edit]

  • "One Day This Will All Be Yours" in McSweeney's Issue#18, Winter/Spring 2006
  • "The Wolf" in The Iowa Review, Issue#13 No.2, Fall 2006
  • "Mother" in Esquire U.K., August 2009
  • "What You Do Out Here, When You're Alone" in The New Yorker (the "20 Under 40" Issue), June 14, 2010
  • "You Are Right Here" in the Texas Observer, 23 March 2011

Awards and recognition[edit]

External links[edit]


  • The Washington Post: Ten Best Books of 2009 [1]
  • The Economist: Best Books of the Year December 2009 [2]
  • The New York Times: Notable Books of 2009 [3]
  • The Kansas City Star: Top 100 Books of 2009 [4]
  • The Rumpus "Don't be a Coward: An Interview with Philipp Meyer" July 10, 2009 [5]
  • Mindfood "Philipp Meyer and Laura Lippman" June 22, 2009 [6]
  • The Telegraph: "American Rust: a review" May 24, 2009 [7]
  • The Economist: "A novel of the Rust Belt" April 23, 2009 [8]
  • Metro UK: "Appetite for Destruction" April 21, 2009 [9]
  • The New Yorker: "American Rust"
  • The New York Times Sunday Book Review "In the Noir Belt" March 19, 2009
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Is American Rust the new Great American Novel?" March 18, 2009
  • The Miami Herald "Isaac and Billy can't leave their dead-end town" March 12, 2009
  • Baltimore Sun "American Rust author drew on Hampden upbringing" March 8, 2009
  • Austin American Statesman "Philipp Meyer's 'American Rust' a literary thriller" March 8, 2009
  • Baltimore Sun "In Philipp Meyer's 'American Rust,' bad decisions bring two friends to moral crossroads" March 8, 2009
  • Pittsburgh Tribune Review "American Rust examines those left behind in American Dream" March 1, 2009
  • USA Today "Corrosive Realities underpin remarkable American Rust" March 4, 2009
  • Dayton Daily News "Philipp Meyer's 'American Rust' burns bright with characters" March 1, 2009
  • Wall Street Journal "Rust Never Sleeps" February 20, 2009
  • The Washington Post "A Wealth of Despair Among the Impoverished" February 25, 2009 [10]
  • The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani:"Steel Town Roots, Huck Finn Dreams" February 27, 2009 [11]
  • Ithaca Times "An American Tale" February 26, 2009
  • Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star "In Rust We Trust" February 22, 2009
  • Tompkins Weekly "An Author Exposes Small Town America" February 23, 2009
  • The Daily Beast "Men of Steel" February 24, 2009
  • Austin American Statesman "American Ru$t" April 23, 2008
  • The Daily Texan "UT Creative Writing Student becomes Published Author" April 21, 2008
  • Ithaca Journal "Enfield Author talks about living the "rough life" and new book" February 28, 2009
  • The Austin Chronicle "Katrina Through the Eyes of an EMT" September 2, 2005
  1. ^ a b John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Site "Philipp Meyer Bio"
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b c
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  7. ^ a b
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  9. ^ a b c d e
  10. ^ a b c
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  15. ^ a b
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  17. ^ Amazon "Best Books of 2009"
  18. ^ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Best Books of 2009" December 27, 2009
  19. ^ New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2009"
  20. ^ Washington Post "Book World Picks Its 10 Best Books of the Year"
  21. ^ The Economist "Books of the Year" December 3, 2009
  22. ^ New Yorker "20 Under 40: Q & A Philipp Meyer" June 14, 2010
  23. ^