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Nicholson Baker - Biography

Nicholson Baker was born in New York City on January 7, 1957. Nicholson Baker is a Professor of Poetry at European Graduate School (EGS) and a celebrated writer of fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist, Baker's work focuses on the thoughts of characters during otherwise inconsequential moments. His novels generally de-emphasize narrative and focus instead on careful description and characterization.

From 1970 to 1975 Nicholson Baker studied at The School Without Walls in Rochester, New York. In 1975 he studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music and received a B.A. in philosophy from Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He lives with his family in South Berwick, Maine. Nicholson Baker is also the great-grandson of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946).

Nicholson Baker is also an activist for the protection and archiving of newspapers. His campaign arose after he discovered that many major libraries destroy the paper originals once a microfilm copy has been made. In 1997, Baker received the San Francisco–based James Madison Freedom of Information Award in recognition of these efforts. In 1999, he established a non-profit corporation, the American Newspaper Repository, to rescue old newspapers from destruction by libraries. These discoveries prompted Baker to write Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, a book that has received a great deal of media attention and for which he also received a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001.

Nicholson Baker's first work, Mezzanine (1988), takes place through the memories of an office worker as he ascends an escalator. It abounds in long footnotes and has created the genre for which Baker is best known. His next novel, Room Temperature, follows the same path, though this time it takes place during a few minutes at the narrator's home while he is feeding his baby daughter. Through narrator Mike's thoughts, Baker might be expressing his own approach to writing – the belief that "...with a little concentration, one's whole life could be reconstructed from any single twenty-minute period randomly or almost randomly selected." The continuation of this novel can be seen in A Box of Matches (2003) with a narrator who is now middle-aged and has a family. In a similar way, this book mines the narrator's store of reflections and memories.

His novel Vox (1992), about a phone sex conversation, was briefly a media sensation after it was revealed that Monica Lewinsky had given a copy to President Bill Clinton. Here, Nicholson Baker explores two young single characters' accumulated thoughts and memories in relation to sex on a pay-per-minute chat line. The book was Baker's first New York Times bestseller.

In one of his first non-fiction works, U and I: A True Story (1991) Nicholson Baker composes a study of how a reader engages with an author's work, partly written as an appreciation of John Updike and partly as an act of self-exploration. In this non-traditional literary analysis, Baker has decided not to read more of Updike, and all of the Updike quotes are written as they come from his memory alone.

Nicholson Baker's more recent works are focused on particular political and historical issues. Baker's novel Checkpoint (2004) is made of dialogue between two old high school friends and plans to assassinate former President George W. Bush. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008) offers a revised history of the beginnings of World War II. It questions the prevailing belief that the Allies wanted to avoid the war, but were provoked by Hitler's actions. Baker uses original documents to suggest that the leaders of the USA and the UK were the ones provoking Germany into war. In the epilogue to the book, he suggests that the pacifists (often vilified by WWII historians) might have failed, but had it right all along.

Nicholson Baker is the author of numerous books including: The Anthologist: A Novel. (Simon & Schuster. September 8, 2009), Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. (Simon & Schuster. March 11, 2008), The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in J. Pulitzer's newspaper 1898-1911. (Bulfinch. 2006), Checkpoint (Vintage Books. 2006), Vintage Baker. (Vintage Books. 2004), A Box of Matches. (Vintage Contemporaries. 2004), The Fermata. (Vintage. 2004), Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. (Vintage. 2002), A Book of Books. (Bulfinch Press. 2002), The Everlasting Story of Nory. (Vintage Books. 1999), Room Temperature. (Granta Books. 1998) The Mezzanine. (Granta Books. 1998), Vox. (Granta Books. 1998), U and I: A True Story. (Granta Books. 1998) and The Size of Thoughts. (Vintage Books. 1997).

Nicholson Baker is a professor of poetry at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he teaches an Intensive Summer Workshop.