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Jeffrey Eugenides | Biography


Jeffrey Eugenides was born on March 8, 1960, in Detroit, Michigan. Like his main character, Cal, his family moved to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in 1967, after riots in Detroit—caused by tensions between police and civilians in an inner-city African American neighborhood—burned down much of the city. His grandfather owned a bar called The Zebra Room in Detroit; Eugenides named the Stephanides bar in Middlesex in homage to his grandfather. Like his characters, Eugenides has a Greek last name (his father was Greek American) and his ancestors hail from Asia Minor. In order to create a character so far removed from his own reality, Eugenides gave autobiographical elements to Cal Stephanides, providing him with the grounding to take risks with the rest of the character.

Like Cal Stephanides, Eugenides grew up in an upper middle-class family. His father, Jeffrey Eugenides, was a businessman who became increasingly successful, propelling his family from their working-class roots to affluence. Eugenides's mother is of Irish descent and grew up very poor in Kentucky. Both his parents were readers, and Eugenides grew up in a house filled with books, deciding in high school to become a writer. He credits Ovid's Metamorphoses with cementing his desire to become a writer; he wanted to imagine different points of view and inhabit characters markedly unlike himself.

Eugenides graduated from Brown University, where he majored in English to expose himself to the canon of great literature. He went on to study creative writing at Stanford University and currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.

Eugenides published his first book, The Virgin Suicides, in 1993. It was made into a 1999 film directed by Sofia Coppola. Middlesex was published in 2002; it won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It had largely good reviews, although essayist and critic Daniel Mendelsohn in The New York Review of Books called it a book "somewhat in the middle of two books." Mendelsohn said that Middlesex is composed of two distinct and sometimes warring halves; it is both the saga of a Greek American family of immigrants and the story of how a character grapples with his own contradictions. Sales and popularity of the book were boosted by its inclusion in Oprah's Book Club in 2007.

Eugenides has written numerous essays and short stories and another novel, The Marriage Plot, published in 2011.

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