Biography of Jonathan Safran Foer

Early Years

Jonathan Safran Foer was born on February 21, 1977 in Washington D.C. to his lawyer father, Albert Foer, and his businesswoman mother, Polish-born Esther Safran Foer. Jonathan is a middle-child, younger brother of Franklin Foer, the former editor of the politics and culture magazine The New Republic, and older brother of Joshua, a freelance journalist.

A colourful and yet sensitive child, Foer attended Georgetown Day School, where he was injured at the age of eight in a classroom chemical accident. The accident resulted in "something like a nervous breakdown drawn out over about three years," which left him wanting nothing but to be "outside his own skin."


Foer attended Princeton University in New Jersey, where he studied Philosophy. It was while at Princeton that Foer was able to take an introductory writing course under the tutelage of novelist Joyce Carol Oates. Oates noted Foer's talent at an early stage, informing him that he had "that most important of writerly qualities, energy." Of Oates, Foer later said:

"She was the first person to ever make me think I should try to write in any sort of serious way. And my life really changed after that."

In a turn of luck, Oates was assigned to be Foer's advisor for his senior thesis, in which he explored the life of his maternal granddad, Holocaust survivor Louis Safran. Foer was awarded Princeton's Senior Creative Writing Thesis Prize for his work.

After Graduation

Upon graduating from university, Foer enrolled at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, before realising that such a career was not for him. It was at this point that he dropped out and seriously decided to pursue a career in writing.

Literary Career

The first thing Foer did was to expand his prize-winning Princeton thesis into the manuscript for a novel, (what would eventually become Everything is Illuminated. The book, published by Houghton Miffin in 2002, went on to earn him the Jewish Book Award and the Guardian First Book Award. In 2005, Liev Schreiber wrote and direct a film-version of the book.

In the same year, Foer published his second novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell and his search across New York for the lock that fits his secret key. Foer's use of postmodern writing techniques in the book - varied typography and multiple narrators - earned him both praise and condemnation from critics. In spite of such mixed reviews, the novel sold well and a movie-version is set to be released soon.

In 2008, Foer taught writing for the first time as a professor of fiction at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, but aside from this work, Foer remained relatively quiet during the period 2005 - 2009. Towards the end of 2009, though, he burst back onto the literary scene with his first non-fiction book, a scathing look at the meat industry called Eating Animals. The book weaves a personal narrative with an argument of vegetarianism.

Foer currently teachers Creative Writing at New York University and lives with his wife - novelist Nicole Krauss - and their two children.