Paul Theroux
Novelist  Travel WriterShort Story Writer Critic

Paul Theroux is described by writer and friend Jonathan Raban as “utterly American, possessing all of those democratic, Yankee, can do qualities.”  These traits have served him well on explorations around the world for over fifty years, pen in hand, always with an eye for odd, compelling detail.

Readers depend on his uncompromising, sometimes brazen reportage; audiences remember him for his witty, acerbic asides and the tremendous breadth of literature he brings to bear.  Theroux is an avid, impassioned reader and literary scholar.  His relentless enthusiasm for the pursuit of new discoveries and an abiding respect and affection for his readers and audience are abundantly evident in person.  “…it’s like a friendship [with the reader],” Theroux says. “…A bond develops if you write a lot of books.”

Such qualities have served him well in his long career, fueling a prodigious output of books—more than 47 works of travel writing, short-story collections, novels, criticism and children’s literature since he published his first book, the novel Waldo, in 1967.

“Theroux novels are neither apologia nor accusation; wit is his rare medium, and that lays bare both. He is a large, lively, outrageous talent.”  

—Nadine Gordimer

He is recipient of the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award for literature, the Whitbread Prize for his novel Picture Palace, and the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast, which was also nominated for the American Book Award along with his earlier travel book The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas.  His novels Saint Jack, The Mosquito Coast, Doctor Slaughter and Half Moon Street have all been made into films; and his short-story collection London Embassy (1982) was adapted for a British mini-series in 1987. His latest novel, The Lower River, is inspired by his own chilling experience while in the Peace Corps. It the story of Ellis Hock, who flees his sputtering marriage and career for the warmth of Malawi, a country he remembers fondly from a visit as a young man. Upon arrival, he finds his once peaceful village now ravaged by  poverty and AIDS, with the villagers relying on deception to survive.

Many of Theroux’s novels are set in exotic locations around the world—both real and imagined—and are inspired by his own prolific travels, which he also chronicles in his highly distinguished body of nonfiction. With the publication of The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia and The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux established himself as America’s foremost travel writer.

“Theroux may be one of our most prolific travel writers, but he is also one of our best. The reason for this, I think, is his ability to convey the optimism of travel while refusing to tell lies about what he encounters. You feel hopeful when you read him, and you feel that you’re being told the truth, and that’s a good enough reason to stay with him.”

—Carolyn Sylge, New Statesman

In his latest book The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, Theroux (2013) returns to the continent he knows and loves best. On an arduous 2,500 mile trek through the bush, he explores the little-traveled territory of western Africa, taking stock of both the place and himself. 

His newest book, Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories, is a collection of short stories.
  
Born in 1941, in Massachusetts, Theroux began his travels in earnest after he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963.  He  has lived, taught and written around the world, including Urbino, Italy; the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa; Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; the University of Singapore; and the United Kingdom.  He currently lives between Maine and Hawaii. In addition to his books, Theroux has published articles in many magazines, including Time, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Talk, GQ and Esquire.  

Selected Nonfiction Books
  • The Last Train to Zona Verde (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)
  • The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road (Houghton, 2011)
  • Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: 28,000 Miles in Search of the Railway Bazaar (Houghton, 2008)
  • Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Houghton, 2003)
  • The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean (Putnam, 1995)
  • Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China (Putnam, 1989)
  • The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey around Great Britain (Houghton, 1985)
  • The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas (Houghton, 1979)
  • The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia (Houghton, 1975)

Selected Fiction Books

  • Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
  • Lower River (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
  • A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
  • The Elephanta Suite: Three Novellas (Houghton, 2007)
  • Blinding Light (Houghton, 2005)
  • Kowloon Tong (Houghton, 1997)
  • My Other Life (Houghton, 1996)
  • My Secret History (Putnam, 1989)
  • Half Moon Street: Two Short Novels (Houghton, 1984)
  • Doctor Slaughter (Hamish Hamilton, 1984)
  • The Mosquito Coast (Houghton, 1982)
  • Picture Palace (Houghton, 1978)
  • Waldo (Houghton, 1967)
Awards
Fellow, Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Geographic Society in Britain
2011  National Magazine Award in Fiction for "Minor Watt"
1989  Thomas Cook Travel Book Prize
1983  Finalist, American Book Award for The Mosquito Coast
1981  Finalist, American Book Award for The Old Patagonian Express
1978  Whitbread Prize for Best Novel for Picture Palace
1977  American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for literature

Media


[Theroux’s] picturesque narrative is studded with scenes that stick in the mind.  He looks at strangers with a novelist's eye, and his portraits are pleasantly tinged with malice.

Washington Post Book World



An armchair trip with Theroux is sometimes dark, but always a delight.

Playboy
 

 
Perhaps in the end what makes Mr. Theroux most persuasive as a writer is simply his willingness to put himself on the line, to monitor his own emotions and give us a report....[A] gutsy, personal, and astonishing writer.
 
The New York Times

 



[Theroux’s] books have enriched the travel literature of this century....
 
USA Today

 
Riding the Iron Rooster

Dark Star Safari

Travel writing is not scholarship, nor is it about getting one’s facts right. There is no obligation to be fair, only to be true to your own experience, which, as Theroux mentions in Granta , means “the moments of desperation or fear or lust. the names of books read to kill time, the condition of toilets.”
 
Eric Weinberger, The Nation