Born in New York City in 1930, Harry Mathews has
spent much of his adult life in Europe, chiefly in France. He now
divides his time between France and Key West, Florida.
Mathews began publishing his
poetry in 1956. He soon afterwards became associated with the so-called
New York School of poets, and particularly with John Ashbery, with whom
he has remained a close friend. In 1962 he published the first of five
novels, The Conversions (the most recent, The Journalist,
appeared in 1994; he is currently working on a new book tentatively
entitled My Life in CIA). He has published several volumes of
poems, translations, and criticism.
In 1970 Mathews met the French
writer Georges Perec; there began a period of literary collaboration and
friendship that only ended with the Frenchman’s death in 1982. Perec
introduced Mathews to the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (the
Oulipo), a group of mathematicians and writers devoted to the
investigation of constrictive forms and procedures. (The Oulipo,
co-founded by Raymond Queneau, has counted Marcel Duchamp, Italo
Calvino, and Jacques Roubaud among its members.)
In 1978 Mathews began teaching
in the United States. His subjects have included French literature,
comparative literature, and writing.
From 1949 to 1961 Mathews was
married to Niki de Saint Phalle, by whom he had two children. He later
married French novelist Marie Chaix.
Harry Mathews passed away in Key West, Florida, on
January 25, 2017.