Tobias Wolff was born on June 19th, 1945
in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the second son of Arthur Samuels Wolff and
Rosemary Loftus Wolff. At age five, Tobias faced a family breakup where he and
his mother separated from his father and older brother, Geoffrey, due to the
instability his father kept in his family life. Wolff and his mother constantly
moved. They lived first in Florida, then moved to Utah in 1955, and finally
settled in the Pacific Northwest, where his mother remarried a troublesome man,
Dwight Hansen. They lived in Newhalem, Washington with Hansen and his three
children. Wolff attended Concrete High School until he left for Hill School in
Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where he faked his references to be accepted. He
attended Hill School for a year but did not graduate and instead ended up
joining the military for four years. Wolff’s family also did not reunite until
1961 when he saw his older brother and father after eleven years. From 1964 to
1968, Wolff served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, where he was assigned his
post in Vietnam.
After serving those years, Wolff traveled
to England and enrolled at Oxford University. In 1972, he received his
bachelor’s degree at Oxford and in 1975, received a master’s degree at Oxford.
Returning to America, he worked first as a reporter for The Washington Post, then at various restaurant jobs in California.
In 1975, he married Catherine Dolores Spohn, a teacher and social worker. They
later had two sons and a daughter; Michael, Patrick, and Mary Elizabeth. Wolff
enrolled at Stanford University the same year and soon received a master’s
degree from Stanford in 1978. While at Stanford, he met and became friends with
other writers, including Raymond Carver. During this time, he supported himself
Besides short stories, Tobias Wolff has
published a novella, The Barracks Thief (1984), and a memoir, This Boy’s Life
(1989). He also edited short-story anthologies, including The Best American
Short Stories (1994). While pursuing his own writing, Wolff has taught creative
writing at Goddard College and Arizona State University. Currently, he lives
with his family in upstate New York and teaches at Syracuse University.
Wolff has also influenced countless
people, including the famous David Sedaris, an American comedian and author.
Sedaris claims he is Wolff’s “biggest fan” as he has read every word Wolff has
Wolff’s work has won numerous literary
prizes. He received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in 1975 to study creative
writing at Stanford University and won creative writing grants from the
National Endowment for the Arts. Wolff has been awarded the 1985 PEN/Faulkner
Award for Fiction for The Barracks Thief
and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. His This Boy’s Life: A Memoir won The Los
Angeles Times book prize for biography. He has also received a Whiting
Foundation Award (1990), a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award (1994), and a
Lyndhurst Foundation Award (1994).