Jump to content

Helen DeWitt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Helen DeWitt
Helen DeWitt
Helen DeWitt
Born1957 (age 66–67)
Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S.
Notable worksThe Last Samurai
Lightning Rods
Some Trick
Voice of Helen DeWitt, 2015

Helen DeWitt (born 1957) is an American novelist. She is the author of the novels The Last Samurai (2000) and Lightning Rods (2011) and the short story collection Some Trick (2018) and, in collaboration with the Australian journalist Ilya Gridneff, has written Your Name Here.[1] She lives in Berlin.[2]


DeWitt grew up primarily in Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador[3]), as her parents worked in the United States diplomatic service. After a year at Northfield Mount Hermon School and two short periods at Smith College, DeWitt studied classics at the University of Oxford, first at Lady Margaret Hall, and then at Brasenose College for her D.Phil., where her thesis examined the concept of propriety in ancient literary criticism.[4] Afterwards she became a junior research fellow at Somerville College.[5]


DeWitt is best known for her debut novel, The Last Samurai. She held a variety of jobs while struggling to finish a book, including dictionary text tagger, copytaker, Dunkin' Donuts employee, legal secretary, and working at a laundry service. During this time she reportedly attempted to finish many novels, before finally completing The Last Samurai, her 50th manuscript, in 1998.[3][6] It was published in 2000 by Talk Miramax Books.

In 1999, DeWitt had completed another novel, Lightning Rods, and later signed a contract for it with Miramax Books in 2003, but it remained unpublished and in limbo. After Miramax Books was folded into Hyperion Books in late 2007, she asked for the rights to be returned.[7][8][9][10] It was eventually published in 2011 by New Directions.

In 2005 she collaborated with Ingrid Kerma, the London-based painter, writing "limit5" for the exhibition "Blushing Brides".

An excerpt from an in-progress novel set in Flin Flon, Manitoba, has been published online by Open Book: Ontario at the end of an article about the novel and DeWitt's difficulties in finding a publisher.[11]

Her short story "Climbers", which explores artistic ideals and commercial realities of the writing life, was published in Harper's Magazine November 2014.[12]

In 2018, a collection of thirteen of her short stories, Some Trick, was published by New Directions. It was shortlisted for the 2019 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize.[13]

DeWitt published a novella, The English Understand Wool, in 2022. The novella was published as part of a new series from New Directions Publishing, "Storybook ND", which aims to deliver "the pleasure one felt as a child reading a marvelous book from cover to cover in an afternoon".[14][15]


Novels and novellas[edit]

  • The Last Samurai (Talk Miramax Books/Chatto & Windus, 2000; ISBN 0-7868-6668-3)
  • Your Name Here (co-written with Ilya Gridneff). Was available for purchase as a PDF from DeWitt's website at one time, but remains otherwise unpublished.
  • Lightning Rods (New Directions, 2011; And Other Stories, 2012; ISBN 978-1908276117)
  • The English Understand Wool (New Directions, 2022)

Short story collection[edit]


  1. ^ Turner, Jenny (2008-09-11). "Move Your Head and the Picture Changes". London Review of Books. Vol. 30, no. 17. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  2. ^ "Helen DeWitt". www.artforum.com. November 2015. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  3. ^ a b Macgowan, James (2000-10-15). "After 50 attempts, Helen DeWitt's brainy prose gets brawny cash advances". The Ottawa Citizen. CanWest Interactive.
  4. ^ DeWitt, Helen (1987). Quo virtus? The Concept of Propriety in Ancient Literary Criticism (D.Phil.). University of Oxford. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  5. ^ Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial (2006). Reports of the President and the Treasurer. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
  6. ^ The Paris Review. "Helen DeWitt: My First Time". The Paris Review. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  7. ^ "Novels From the Edge: For Helen DeWitt, the Publishing World Is a High-Stakes Game". Observer. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  8. ^ "an interview with helen dewitt | if:book". 27 December 2008. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  9. ^ Lorentzen, Christian (2016-07-13). "When Will Helen DeWitt Be Recognized As One of the Great American Novelists?". Vulture. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  10. ^ "The Screwer and the Screwed | Lauren Oyler". The Baffler. 2018-04-30. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  11. ^ "Helen DeWitt on Writing, Flin Flon and the Canadian Personality".
  12. ^ harper's magazine vol.329 No. 1974
  13. ^ "Announcing the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists". PEN America. 2019-01-15. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  14. ^ Arrowsmith, Charles (30 September 2022). "Review: The author of a literary classic, Helen DeWitt tries a novella on for size". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 October 2022.
  15. ^ Maloney, Iain (21 July 2022). "Independent publisher gives short stories their due with 'Storybook ND' series". The Japan Times. Retrieved 29 October 2022.

External links[edit]