West was born in New York City
in 1903 to Max and Anna Weinstein. His father, a construction
contractor, supported the family. West did not exhibit any ambition
during his youth, and while attending Brown University
, Rhode Island, his studies meant very little to him. During his classes he opted to draw cartoons and write bizarre short stories. Two
years after graduating with a PhD, in 1926, he decided to change his name from Nathan Weinstein to Nathanael West. He spent several years in Paris
after graduating, and while there he wrote his first novel, “The Dream Life of Balso Snell.”
When West returned to the states he operated two small hotels, The Kenmore Hall and the Sutton Club Hotel. During this time, West provided free board to a number of aspiring writers. Some of these visitors were Dashiell Hammett, James T. Farrell, and Erskine Caldwell.
By the time he reached his early thirties, West was working as a journalist. His experiences while managing a hotel and his work as a journalist gave him inspiration for his second novel, “Miss Lonelyhearts” in 1933. In all of his works, West showed his fascination for what he called “the secret inner life of masses,” where depression from unfilled desires always carries the chance of leading not only to bitterness, but to tremendous violence and mayhem.
West relocated to Hollywood in 1935 and lived in a small hotel called the Pa-Va-Sed, where he would earn his living as a scriptwriter. Before he was able to find work in the movie industry, West spent time hanging out with the outcasts of Hollywood, all the while carefully observing their lifestyles. “The Day of the Locust,” which would become West’s most successful novel, is based on these observations West took note of.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West died on the same weekend in December, 1940. West had returned from a trip to Mexico with his wife Eileen McKenney, and when he heard about Fitzgerald’s death he became extremely upset. In a rush to get to his funeral, West failed to notice a stop sign and wrecked in El Centro, California, killing both he and his wife.
Works by Nathanael West include:
“The Dream Life of Balso Snell”
“A Cool Million”
“The Day of the Locust”
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