has called “the most intelligent and beautiful book ever written about juvenile detention centers, sadomasochism and drugs” is certainly an uncommon distinction. But for a writer who spent the better part of his adolescence as a ward of the State of
Illinois and has worked variously as a cabdriver, stripper, bartender and marketing executive as well as teaching creative writing at Stanford University, the uncommon is to be expected.
Stephen Elliott’s writing, which JT Leroy called “spare, erotic and beautiful,” draws heavily on his own past. His acclaimed breakthrough novel
is “an autobiographical heartbreaker … concerned with the ways institutional violence shapes its victims” (
"It sounds like burbling cliché to describe a book like this as a tale of miraculous survival, or a fable demonstrating that a literary sensibility can grow even in the stoniest soil. Let’s say instead that Happy Baby
is a most impressive little novel, heartbreakingly and bewilderingly alive in a way most bigger books can’t even imagine."
A native of Chicago, Elliott spent the ages of 13 to 18 in state custody, growing up in juvenile detention facilities, group homes and foster care. His experience in this gritty and harrowing world colors much of his fiction and compelled The San Francisco Chronicle to comment, “A Life Without Consequences [his second novel] should be required reading in every social service agency in Chicago. A copy of it belongs in every teenage runaway drop-in center in the country. Nobody who reads it will ever vote for another initiative to treat juvenile offenders more like adults.”
Nevertheless, Elliott’s intellectual curiosity earned him a scholarship to the University of Illinois. He went on to Northwestern for an MA in Film Studies and, in 2001, was awarded the prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Now far from his difficult youth in group homes and on the streets of Chicago, Elliott is still outspoken about the dire need for reform in our child welfare system.
Elliott’s 2009 memoir, The Adderall Diaries, is structured around the investigation of a Bay Area murder trial, but is also an investigation of his own troubled past and the craft of writing. It was a New York Times editors’ pick and has been described as a work of “genius” by both Vanity Fair and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was named the 2009 Best Book of the Year by Time Out New York and one of the best books of 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews.
His most recent work has focused on bringing his words, so vibrant on the page, to life. He is the director and co-writer of the film About Cherry, starring James Franco, Ashley Hinshaw, and Heather Graham, which made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2012. This bold debut is the story of a high school student whose flees a depressing home life and dead-end job in Los Angeles, only to find herself entangled in the San Francisco adult film world.
Elliott is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheRumpus.net, an online literary and culture magazine he established in 2008, with features by contributors including Rick Moody, Jerry Stahl, and Cheryl Strayed. Elliott describes The Rumpus as “a web magazine that takes good writing seriously. A place where sentences actually matter.”
He is also an avid observer of the American political process. During the 2004 campaign he covered the presidential primaries, writing the humorous and insightful political memoir Looking Forward to It. That same year, compelled to drive more young people to vote, he organized “Operation Ohio.” Enlisting the help of hot, emerging authors and cult literary figures—including Tobias Wolff, Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon—he hit the road, touring college campuses in a voter registration drive and calling students on election day.
Elliott lives in San Francisco, He has taught at Stanford University as well as workshops and conferences around the country, and he is a frequent contributor to GQ, Esquire, The Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, McSweeney’s, The Sun and The Huffington Post.
- Happy Baby (MacAdam/Cage, 2004)
- What It Means to Love You: A Novel (MacAdam/Cage, 2002)
- A Life Without Consequences (MacAdam/Cage, 2001)
- Jones Inn (Boneyard Press, 1998)
- The Adderall Diaries (Graywolf Press, 2009)
- Looking Forward to It: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the American Electoral Process (Picador, 2004)
- Politically Inspired, Editor, et al. (MacAdam/Cage, 2003)
2009 Time Out New York's
Best Book of the Year for The Adderall Diaries
2009 Kirkus Review's
Best Book of the Year for The Adderall Diaries
2004 Village Voice’s
Favorite Books of the Year for Happy Baby
and Looking Forward to It
2004 New York Newsday’s
Favorite Books for Happy Baby
Top 10 Books of the Year for Happy Baby
2004 Newcity Chicago’s
Top 5 Books of 2004 for Happy Baby
2004 Finalist, New York Public Library Young Lions Award for Happy Baby
2004 Silver Medal, California Book Award for Happy Baby
2001-2003 Stegner Fellowship, Stanford UniversityFor more information about Stephen Elliott and his work, please visit www.stephenelliott.com.