Theroux’s great mission had always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself—and thus, to challenge us.
—The Boston Globe
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 worldwide explorations for over fifty years, pen in hand, always with an eye for the odd, compelling detail. Throughout his long career, these qualities have fueled a prodigious output of nearly fifty books—travel writing, short story collections, novels, and more—since he published his first, the novel Waldo, in 1967.
Readers depend on Theroux’s uncompromising, sometimes brazen reportage; audiences remember him for his acerbic asides and the tremendous breadth of literature he brings to bear. Theroux is an avid reader and an impassioned scholar. His enormous enthusiasm for new discoveries and abiding affection for his readers 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.”
An armchair trip with Theroux is sometimes dark, but always a delight.
Theroux has been recognized with the Royal Patron’s Medal from the Royal Geographical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and the Whitbread Prize. He also won the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast and has been twice nominated for the American Book Award. Several of his novels, notably The Mosquito Coast, have been made into films, and his story collection London Embassy was adapted for a British miniseries. His most recent novel, Mother Land, a “detailed, intricate, and dark” (Library Journal) story about the imposing matriarch of a large Cape Cod family, was published in 2017.
Theroux novels are neither apologia nor accusation; wit is his rare medium, and that lays bare both. He is a large, lively, outrageous talent.
Many of Theroux’s novels are set in exotic locations both real and imagined. They are inspired by his own prolific travels, which he chronicles in his highly distinguished body of nonfiction. With his landmark works The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia and The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux established himself as America’s foremost travel writer. In his many subsequent books, including Riding the Iron Rooster, Dark Star Safari, and The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, Theroux has continued to hone that reputation. In Last Train to Zona Verde, Theroux wrote that he would no longer be writing from the farthest corners of the world, and so for his tenth travel book, he trained his eye stateside for the first time. Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads is at once “a vivid contemporary portrait of rural life” and “a deeply affecting personal account” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Theroux’s latest essay collection is Figures in a Landscape: People and Places, which Publishers Weekly called “a magisterial grouping of intimate remembrances, globe-trotting adventures, and incisive literary critiques” and Kirkus termed “a well-curated meditation on some of the places, people, and moments he has experienced in a lifetime of rambles.” In addition to his books, he has written widely for Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Talk, GQ, Smithsonian, and Esquire.
Theroux’s newest book is On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey, a book about the cultures on both sides of the US-Mexico border. As he traverses the deserts between Arizona and Sonora, Theroux finds a place brimming with vitality, yet visibly marked by both the US Border Patrol looming to the north and mounting discord from within. Publisher’s Weekly called the book an “empathetic rumination…energized by a new spark of political commitment.”
Born in Massachusetts in 1941, Theroux began his travels in earnest after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. He has lived, taught, and written around the world, including in Urbino, Italy; Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; the University of Singapore; the United Kingdom; and Malawi, where he served with the Peace Corps. He lives in Maine and Hawaii.