Gary Shteyngart is a Soviet-born American writer. He authorizes five novels (including Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story) and a memoir. Much of his work is satirical. Born Igor Semyonovich Shteyngart in the Soviet Union, he spent the first seven years of his childhood living in a square dominated by a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in what is now St. Petersburg—which he alternately calls "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg."
He comes from a Jewish family with an ethnically Russian maternal grandparent and describes his family as typically Soviet. His father worked as an engineer in a LOMO camera factory; his mother was a pianist. When he was five, he wrote a 100-page comic novel. Shteyngart immigrated to the United States in 1979 and was brought up in Queens, New York, with no television in the apartment where he lived, where English was not the household language.
He did not shed his thick Russian accent until the age of 14. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City and Oberlin College in Ohio, earning a degree in politics in 1995 with a senior thesis on the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan. After Oberlin, he worked a series of jobs, as a writer, for non-profit organizations in New York. Shteyngart took a trip to Prague in the early 1990s, and this experience helped spawn his first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, set in the fictitious European city of Prava.
In 1999, as part of the application to Hunter College's MFA program, he mailed a portion of his first novel to Chang-Rae Lee, the director of the creative writing program at Hunter College. Lee helped Shteyngart get his first book deal. Shteyngart earned an MFA in creative writing at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Shteyngart had a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, for the Fall of 2007.
He has taught writing at Hunter College and currently teaches writing at Columbia University. Shteyngart's work has received numerous awards. The Russian Debutante's Handbook won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award, and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was named a New York Times Notable Book and one of The Guardian's best debuts of the year.
In 2002, Shout NY Magazine named him one of the five best new writers. Absurdistan was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time magazine and a book of the year by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. In June 2010, Shteyngart was named one of The New Yorker magazine's "20 under 40" luminary fiction writers. Super Sad True Love Story won the 2011 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature.
His memoir Little Failure was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography). Shteyngart's novels include The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002) and Absurdistan (2006). Super Sad True Love Story (2010) was promoted by a film trailer with Paul Giamatti and James Franco. Thirty-five years after he emigrated to the U.S., in January 2014, Random House published Little Failure: A Memoir and promoted it with a film trailer with James Franco and Rashida Jones.
A film trailer with Ben Stiller promoted his 2018 book, Lake Success. Random House published his fifth novel, Our Country Friends, in 2021. It is a story about friends who spend the pandemic together. His other writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Granta, Travel and Leisure, and The New York Times. Shteyngart has also become known for his prolific blurbing, inspiring a Tumblr website devoted to his Collected Blurbs, a live reading, and a fifteen-minute documentary by Jonathan Ames.