Nathanael West was born Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein,
on October 17, 1903, in New
York City. After dropping out of high school,
West gained admission into Tufts University by forging his high school
transcript. After being expelled from Tufts, West got into Brown University
by appropriating the transcript of a fellow Tufts student who was also
named Nathan Weinstein. While at Brown, West became increasingly interested
in unusual literary style and the writings of French surrealists and
British and Irish poets.
Following graduation, he went to Paris for three months,
and it was at this point that he changed his name to Nathanael West.
Shortly thereafter he returned home to work in construction for his
father as well as a night manager of the Kenmore Hotel in Manhattan.
He also worked a short while for the magazine Contact with William
Carlos Williams. Though West had been working on his writing since college,
it was not until his quiet night job at the hotel that he found the
time to put his novel together. Finally, in 1931, West published The
Dream Life of Balso Snell, a novel he had conceived in college.
Then, in 1933, West published Miss Lonelyhearts.
In 1933, West bought a farm in eastern Pennsylvania,
but soon got a job as a contract scriptwriter for Columbia Pictures
and moved to Hollywood. In 1934, he published a third novel, A Cool
Million. None of West’s three works were selling well, however,
so he spent the mid-1930s in financial difficulty, sporadically collaborating
on screenplays. It was during this time that West wrote The Day of
the Locust, which would be published in 1939. Sadly this was the
last book West ever wrote.
West died on December 22, 1940, in a car accident.
Ironically, West’s reputation grew after his death, especially
with the publication of his collected novels in 1957. Miss Lonelyhearts is widely regarded as West’s masterpiece, and The Day of the
Locust still stands as one of the best novels written about the
early years of Hollywood. Most of West’s fiction is, in one way
or another, a response to the Depression that hit America with the stock
market crash in October 1929. West saw the American dream as having
been betrayed, both spiritually and materially.
Sources: “Nathanael West (1903 - 1940).” American
Jewish Historical Society, American
Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random
House, 1999). pg. 563-4,