William Kotzwinkle Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1938. Education: Attended Rider College and Pennsylvania State University. Career: Worked as a short order cook and editor/writer in the 1960s; full time writer, 1960s—. Awards: National Magazine awards for fiction, 1972, 1975; O'Henry prize, 1975; World Fantasy Award for best novel, 1977; North Dakota Children's Choice Award, 1983; Buckeye Award, 1984.
Hermes 3000 (science fiction). New York, Pantheon, 1972.
The Fan Man, drawings by Keith Bendis. New York, Avon, 1974.
Night-Book. New York, Avon, 1974.
Swimmer in the Secret Sea. New York, Avon, 1975.
Doctor Rat (science fiction). New York, Knopf, 1976.
Fata Morgana. New York, Knopf, 1977.
Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman. New York, Knopf, 1978.
Jack in the Box. New York, Putnam, 1980; published as Book of Love. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Christmas at Fontaine's, illustrations by Joe Servello. New York, Putnam, 1982.
E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial Storybook (juvenile, novelization of screenplay by Melissa Mathison). New York, Putnam, 1982.
Superman III (novelization of screenplay by David and Leslie Newman). New York, Warner, 1983.
Queen of Swords, illustrations by Joe Servello. New York, Putnam, 1983.
E.T., the Storybook of the Green Planet: A New Storybook (juvenile, based on story by Steven Spielberg), illustrations by David Wiesner. New York, Putnam, 1985.
The Exile. New York, Dutton/Lawrence, 1987.
The Midnight Examiner. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Hot Jazz Trio, illustrations by Joe Servello. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
The Game of Thirty. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
The Bear Went over the Mountain. New York, Doubleday, 1996.
Fiction (for children)
The Fireman. New York, Pantheon, 1969.
The Ship That Came Down the Gutter. New York, Pantheon, 1970.
Elephant Boy: A Story of the Stone Age. New York, Farrar, Straus, 1970.
The Day the Gang Got Rich. New York, Viking, 1970.
The Return of Crazy Horse. New York, Farrar, Straus, 1971.
The Supreme, Superb, Exalted, and Delightful, One and Only Magic Building. New York, Farrar, Straus, 1973.
Up the Alley with Jack and Joe. New York, Macmillan, 1974.
The Leopard's Tooth. New York, Seabury Press, 1976.
The Ants Who Took Away Time. New York, Doubleday, 1978.
Dream of Dark Harbor. New York, Doubleday, 1979.
The Nap Master. New York, Harcourt, 1979.
The World Is Big and I'm So Small, illustrations by Joe Servello. Crown, 1986.
The Empty Notebook, illustrations by Joe Servello. Boston, Godine, 1990.
The Million Dollar Bear, illustrations by David Catrow. New York, Random House, 1994.
Elephant Bangs Train. New York, Pantheon, 1971.
The Oldest Man, and Other Timeless Stories (juvenile). New York, Pantheon, 1971.
Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries (juvenile), illustrations by Joe Servello. Boston, Godine, 1983.
Jewel of the Moon. New York, Putnam, 1985.
Hearts of Wood, and Other Timeless Tales (juvenile), illustrations by Joe Servello. Boston, Godine, 1986.
Tales from the Empty Notebook (juvenile), illustrations by Joe Servello. New York, Marlow, 1996.
Great World Circus (juvenile), illustrations by Joe Servello. New York, Putnam, 1983.
Seduction in Berlin, illustrations by Joe Servello. New York, Putnam, 1985.
The Dream Master (with Brian Helgeland), based on characters created by Wes Craven, adapted by Bob Italia. Edina, Minnesota, Abdo & Daughters, 1992.
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William Kotzwinkle is an accomplished author who is best known for his book of the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but who has produced a range of work for both adults and children that often transgresses genre boundaries and the distinction between serious and popular fiction. His key theme is the conflict between materialism and spiritual awareness, a conflict that he sometimes explores through fantasy and sometimes through satire. Beginning as a children's writer with The Fireman, he then published novels for adults such as Hermes 3000, The Fan Man, and Queen of Swords, which began to establish him as an original and distinctive novelist and won him praise from, for example, Kurt Vonnegut. But it was Doctor Rat that made his reputation as a powerful fantasy writer with a sharp satirical edge. The novel focuses upon laboratory rats whose spokesman, the Doctor Rat of the title, eventually escapes from the vast laboratory where experiments on his fellow-creatures are taking place, and whose adventures are interwoven with shorter tales told by animals of different kinds who finally try to form a whole that will make humans more peaceful and benign. But they are all killed.
Parallel, intersecting worlds are a favorite theme of Kotzwinkle's, and his most remarkable novel in this respect is Fata Morgana. Starting in Paris in 1861, and structured around three Tarot cards—The Fool, the Valet of Coins, and the Magician—it combines elements of fantasy and of the detective story. The tale traces the quest of a case-hardened French detective, Inspector Picard, to expose the truth about Ric Lazare, a dazzling magician whom Picard believes to be a fake and a killer. Picard's journey across Europe to probe the magician's past takes him into the beds of beautiful women and into strange worlds in which reality and illusion merge. He finally reaches the powerful and threatening Fata Morgana, but the difference between illusion and reality remains uncertain at the end of the novel. Further novels of Kotzwinkle's that combine detection with fantasy and the supernatural include Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman and The Midnight Examiner.
Among Kotzwinkle's other notable novels are The Exile, in which a movie star is trapped in the body of a World War II German gangster who is eventually tortured by the Gestapo, and The Game of Thirty, in which a game that survives from ancient Egypt is played out again on the streets of modern New York. New York is also the setting for much of The Bear Went over the Mountain, an engaging animal fantasy for adults and a hilarious satire on literary and media success in the modern world. A large black bear, finding a manuscript written and abandoned by a literary academic under a tree, reads it because he cannot eat it, and, styling himself Hal Jam—his favorite food—he goes to New York and is taken up as a writer who might possibly be the next Hemingway. When the literary academic sues him for stealing his novel, the bear wins the case and his literary standing is assured.
Kotzwinkle's ability to write in a variety of genres and to combine elements of those genres in specific works has made him difficult to classify, while his willingness to produce film tie-ins in the 1980s has sometimes given the impression that he is solely a commercial writer. But in his best work, such as Fata Morgana and The Bear Went over the Mountain, there can be no doubt of his narrative skills and his capacity to produce both suggestive fantasy and shrewd satire that is engaging and penetrating. This has won him a devoted following, but his most substantial fiction merits a wider readership and a more detailed critical examination than it has so far received.
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