With his insightful and often bittersweet stories of youth and imagination, author and screenwriter Michael Chabon made a profound impact on contemporary literature at the turn of the millennium. At the same time, not unlike past literary figures such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, Chabon tried his hand in Hollywood, leading to success as writer of the novel-turned-film, "Wonder Boys" (2000) and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" (2009). He also ventured into the world of comic books, which naturally led to penning drafts of "X-Men" (2000) and "Spider-Man 2" (2004), though he only received screen credit for the latter. Nonetheless, Chabon had firmly established himself as the rare author equally adept at putting pen to paper for the big screen in a variety of genres.
Born May 24, 1963 in Washington, D.C., Chabon was raised in the suburbs of Maryland by his father, Robert, a physician and lawyer, and his mother, Sharon, also an attorney. Though his parents divorced when he was young, he never described his childhood as troubled, which was instead filled with a combination of fantasy and enterprise. A devout reader with a soaring imagination, Chabon formed creative partnerships with his friends from the outset, even starting a comic book company when he was 10 years old. While he often drew the epic tales of fantasy and adventure, his main focus was on writing; using his mother's typewriter, he churned out his first short story in which Sherlock Holmes meets Captain Nemo. In his teens, Chabon abandoned comics and delved head-first into music. He started his own punk band, the Brats, for which he was lead singer, while in college at the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in international studies and government after having spent a year attending nearby Carnegie Mellon University.
While pursuing a master's degree in creative writing at the University of California in Irvine, Chabon wrote a piece of fiction entitled, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, as his thesis. After his instructor suggested that he submit it to a publisher, Chabon became a published author in 1988 at just 24 years old. Because of a central theme wherein the main character explored various sides of his sexuality, it was widely assumed that Chabon himself was gay. Although a self-avowed heterosexual who would later marry mystery novelist Ayelet Waldman and have three children, Chabon always maintained that he never minded the speculation, while gay themes continued to permeate his work. Chabon next attempted to write an epic fiction called Fountain City, but soon found the novel spiraling out of control and abandoned it. He turned the daunting experience into Wonder Boys, about an author also struggling with a mammoth, unwieldy work. Published in 1995, the book was adapted into the Curtis Hanson-directed film of the same name in 2000, starring Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire. The film's critical acclaim brought Chabon widespread fame for the first, but definitely not the last time.
Chabon turned his attention to what may well have been his seminal effort, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000), a story chronicling the friendship of two Jewish kids in the 1940s, who set about creating their own comic book hero, The Escapist, as a way to deal with the struggles of growing up. In the story, Joe Kavalier left his parents behind in Nazi-occupied Europe, while Sammy Clay struggled with his homosexuality. Partially inspired by the real-life creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - as well as Chabon's own childhood - Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001. Chabon eventually turned The Escapist into a real comic book for Dark Horse Comics, whose anthology of stories featured the work of a bevy of powerful and popular artistic talent. His next book was Summerland (2002), about a young baseball lover who gets whisked away into a fantasy land. The rights were soon picked up by Robert De Niro, who was interested in producing a movie adaptation. But any plans for a big screen adaptation where left in perpetual development hell.
Chabon also forged an unusual horror/fantasy fiction persona under the name of August Van Zorn. More elaborately developed than a pseudonym, August Van Zorn was purported to be the pen name for Albert Vetch (1899-1963), described by Chabon as "the greatest unknown horror writer of the twentieth century." Van Zorn was both a peripheral character in Wonder Boys, in which the main characters share a fascination with Van Zorn, and the attributed author of "In The Black Mill," a short story in Chabon's 1999 collection Werewolves in Their Youth. Chabon went on to create a comprehensive bibliography for Van Zorn and even gave him an equally-fictional literary scholar devoted to his oeuvre, named Leon Chaim Bach. In 2004, Chabon established the August Van Zorn Prize, "awarded to the short story that most faithfully and disturbingly embodies the tradition of the weird short story as practiced by Edgar Allan Poe and his literary descendants, among them August Van Zorn." Chabon continued his fascination with the tropes of storytelling past by writing a serialized adventure novel called "Gentlemen of the Road" that was published weekly in The New York Times Magazine during the first half of 2007. The same year saw the publication of Chabon's next novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, a combination of hard-boiled detective noir and speculative fiction that takes place in a world where Europe's post-World War II Jews settled in the Alaskan wilderness instead of Israel. Following a collection of essays dealing with the concept of gender identity in the modern world, Manhood For Amateurs (2009), Chabon left behind his fondness for genre fiction with Telegraph Avenue (2012), a more traditionally "literary" novel about the lives and families of two friends who own a failing record store in a struggling neighborhood on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, near where Chabon lived with his wife, novelist and essayist Ayelet Waldman, and their four children.
With his unique combination of literary and comic book clout, Chabon was asked to write both the "X-Men" (2000) and "Spider-Man 2" (2004) screenplays. Although producers opted to use additional writers for the final shooting scripts, Chabon received a story credit for the "Spider-Man" sequel. Inspired by the process nonetheless, Chabon focused his screenwriting efforts on adapting his own Kavalier & Clay for the big screen, as well as the screenplay, "Snow and the Seven," a martial arts adventure story loosely based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The prolific writer, whose stock continued to rise with the comic book/sci-fi fanboy sect, wrote an unproduced science fiction screenplay entitled "The Martian Agent" for director Jan de Bont, while his first novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was optioned for a big screen adaptation. He was initially linked to the screenplay for "Spider-Man 3" (2007) during pre-production, but was eventually passed over in favor of other writers. He performed early script revisions on the science-fiction box office bomb "John Carter" (2012). Meanwhile, "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" (2009) made it to the big screen, with Jon Foster, Peter Sarsgaard and Sienna Miller in the leads.