Jonathan Safran Foer is that baffling kind of author who never really thought about being a writer until he sat down and wrote a jaw-droppingly good first novel (Everything is Illuminated, 2002).
He was born and raised in Washington, D.C., the son of a Polish-born PR executive and a lawyer. His maternal grandmother was a big figure in his life. Her stories of WWII Germany and fleeing concentration camps profoundly influenced him as a child; a concern for the effects of human rights horrors and acts of war are reflected in both his novels. His grandmother is also mentioned in his non-fiction work, Eating Animals (2009).
As an undergraduate at Princeton, he majored in Philosophy. He wrote his senior thesis on the life of his grandfather, Louis Safran, a Holocaust survivor. In 1995 he took a creative writing course with reknowned American writer Joyce Carol Oates. It was Oates who encouraged him to pursue a career as a writer, something he had not previously considered.
Foer turned his thesis into his first novel and it was published to critical acclaim. Everything is Illuminated is a fictionalised version of the author's journey to Ukraine to retrace his Jewish ancestral origins. Narrated in the hilarious colloquial voice of his young tour guide, the novel is nevertheless achingly tragic. It has since been made into a movie starring Elijah Wood as Safran Foer and the leader singer from Gogol Bordello, Eugene Hutz, as Alexander Perchov.
Safran Foer followed up this debut with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in 2005. Despite mixed reviews, partly stemming from its treatment of a traumatic event still so raw for many Americans, the book sold well. It is due to be made into a film by Warner Bros and Scott Rudin.
Safran Foer's struggles with the ethics of meat-eating form the subject of Eating Animals (2009). This latest book was inspired by the birth of his first child and the feeding decisions that having a baby required of him and his wife, both on-off vegetarians.
He is married to Nicole Krauss, also a novelist, and they have two children.