Since 1962, Harry Mathews has published more than 30 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, many of which blur the lines between the three so effectively it’s difficult to say which genre they fall into. Born and raised in New York City, Mathews attended Princeton before leaving for the Navy and later receiving a B.A. in music. He spent several years associating with other future literary icons like John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, and also became the first American author admitted as a member of France’s influential Oulipo movement.
Those who work in the school of Oulipo are well known for applying constraints to guide their work. The N+7 method, for example, is where one replaces a word in a sentence with whatever other word appears seven entries later in the dictionary. Like many Oulipians, Mathews’s sentences are totally enigmatic, often so unusual in their syntax that you could stop and read most any of them over and over again in search of what they really mean. And yet, there is something living and breathing at the center of his concepts. Each of Mathews’s works are so distinct in approach that the reader is left constantly updating his expectations of what might appear, while at the same time finding in every book a syntax so assuredly composed in its own image that it couldn’t have been written by anyone else.
Below are some of the highlights of Harry Mathews long career.