Which David Foster Wallace Biography Proposal Sold and Which One Didn’t?

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Photo: Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

When David Foster Wallace unexpectedly took his own life last fall, the literary community was understandably caught in a state of shock. However, over the intervening weeks and months, two writers were able to work through their grief by synthesizing their thoughts on the literary giant's life and death in the form of large-scale magazine pieces; David Lipsky's piece for Rolling Stone, "The Lost Years & Last Days Of David Foster Wallace", took home a National Magazine Award, and D.T. Max's exploration in The New Yorker pretty much bowled us over. Based on the warm reception that both of these pieces received, it's no surprise that each submitted book proposals to spin their thoughts into biographies. What is a surprise is that only one of them has sold.

According to an article by Leon Neyfakh in this week's Observer, Max's proposal was scooped up by Viking Press at auction last week for a low–six-figure sum and will arrive in bookstores sometime in 2011. Meanwhile, Lipsky's treatment still hasn't found an interested party willing to publish his "memoiristic sketch" about DFW; according to Neyfakh, even Lipsky's current publisher, Random House, has passed on the project. The sticking point for publishers seems to be the fact that Lipsky's project is based on a series of audiotaped conversations between Lipsky and DFW that took place while the two were on the road for the Infinite Jest book tour in 1996. One anonymous editor who saw both proposals said that "whoever [purchases Lipsky's proposal] is going to have quite a task turning it into a proper book," but also admits that it "will satisfy a different itch, and that is to kind of hear that incredible music again: the sound of David Foster Wallace at full tilt."

For what it's worth, we're actually quite interested in reading each of these works and hope that both authors end up scoring a deal. But most of all, we're shocked that someone hasn't started a single-serving Tumblr blog dedicated to posting goofy pictures alongside the prose of DFW. We think we know a few imprints that would probably pick that book up sight unseen.

Dueling Foster Wallace Bios: Two Hit Market, One Sells [NYO]