Best-selling author Ben Fountain captures his readers and audiences with stories of fictional and nonfictional characters encountering the real-world issues that plague us all. His most recent book, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), was a New York Times best-seller, a National Book Award finalist, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, as well as the inaugural PEN New England/Cerulli Award for Excellence in Sports Fiction. In his fascinating talks and presentations, Fountain discusses the political and cultural environments that have inspired his stories. He is an ideal speaker for universities, libraries, literary and community organizations.
In Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Fountain explores the lives of eight fictional veterans, known as the Bravo Squad, who, after defeating an elite force of enemy insurgents, come home from Iraq to find themselves national heroes. The Bush administration sends them on a "Victory Tour" that culminates in a live broadcast at the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game, which inevitably goes awry. The Bravo Squad will, among other adventures, be guests of honor in the suite of Cowboys owner Norman Oglesby, mix and mingle with some of the nation's wealthiest individuals, share center stage with Destiny's Child during the halftime extravaganza , and, ultimately, shed light on our modern culture's fascination with wealth, politics, and militarism. His previous best-seller, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara (Ecco), is an exhilarating collection of short stories that feature well-intentioned protagonists who are caught in the maelstrom of political and social upheaval surrounding them.
The film adaptation of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is scheduled for release on November 11, 2016. Adapted by Ang Lee, two-time Oscar winner for Best Director, the film stars Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, and Garrett Hedlund, and is being released world-wide by Sony and TriStar Pictures.
Fountain, who holds a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a law degree from the Duke University School of Law, has received numerous literary awards, including the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, a Whiting Writers' Award, an O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and two Texas Institute of Letters Short Story Awards. His fiction has been published in Harper's Magazine, the Paris Review, Esquire Magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Texas Monthly, The New Republic, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. His coverage of post-earthquake Haiti was nationally broadcast on the radio show This American Life. From 2014-2016 Fountain was the University Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University. In Fall 2016, he will join the University of Texas at Austin as a visiting faculty member at the Michener Center for Writers.
Currently, Fountain is writing a series of essays for The Guardian on the U.S. presidential election, and the U.S. political scene. He and his family reside in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Thorne Anderson
Praise for Ben Fountain:
“Ben Fountain was the most engaging speaker I have ever heard at Rice University. He spoke not only on literature and his own acclaimed works, but also on world affairs and the veteran/civilian relationship in our Post-9/11 era to an overflowing auditorium crowd. The university thought he was the biggest steal of the year, and is trying to bring him back as soon as his schedule allows in between the upcoming film adaptation of his award-winning novel and his own forthcoming new novel on Haiti. I guess I can see why Malcolm Gladwell labeled him a ‘genius,’ as he received not one – but two – standing ovations at the end.”
--Mike Freedman, Rice University, Baker Institute Associate Roundtable, Chair
"Ben Fountain was a gracious, well-prepared, funny, and brilliant guest. His reading, in which he shared selections from his novel and told stories about its composition, was a highlight, and his lecture on the writing life was both bracing and encouraging. He was among our very best guests."
--David Wanczyk, Ohio University
"Ben Fountain is the real deal. Bringing piercing intellect and a searing intelligence, Ben sees through the muck to get at what matters. Whether that is matters of literature and within the world of books, or it is to reflect on the larger world of politics and the weighted world of war. Ben brings a literate, considered, intelligent voice to speak to the issues of our day. Critically, Ben has won the respect of the veteran community, including some of its most celebrated voices. Wearing all my hats: Co-Founder of Nantucket Book Festival; Vice-President of PEN/Faulkner; and perhaps most meaningful, mother of a Marine, Weapons Platoon Commander who served in Afghanistan, Ben Fountain is the voice for our time."
--Mary Haft, Writer/Producer, Haft Productions
"Ben Fountain was a wonderful speaker and a very gracious guest. His public lectures were insightful and thought-provoking, and his interactions with students were inspiring and transformative. Following Ben’s visit to our campus, one creative writing professor wrote: “...Ben was so generous with us, so honest, so open, and so right about writing. I wanted to cheer many times as he was speaking. I want to thank you so much for bringing Ben to campus and for giving us the opportunity for such an intimate gathering. We ought to do more things like this for our creative writing students…"
--Julia J. Heydon, Associate Director, Oregon Humanities Center
"In its 27-year history, the Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word has welcomed more than 5,000 authors to Nashville. Ben Fountain stands among the top tier of those authors, both in the quality of his work and his public presentation, and in his professional and gracious manner. It has been our pleasure and honor to work with him since publication of his acclaimed short story collection, “Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. The critical and public response to his contemporary masterpiece “Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk” has been well-deserved and gratifying. When Ben attended the Festival in 2012, he was a National Book Award nominee and in the midst of a media whirlwind. Nonetheless, he stepped up to take part in a panel when a fellow author had to cancel, in addition to the two panels and signings to which he had already committed. At each, he was smart, engaging, and funny, fully accessible to readers and supportive of his colleagues. Ben Fountain is an immensely talented writer and an all-around decent person. We recommend him without reservation."
--Serenity Gerbman, Southern Festival of Books, Director
“The United States Air Force Academy is primarily an engineering school…we made Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk a core requirement in our capstone English course for seniors about to embark on the profession of arms. Their reading was capped off by a visit from Ben Fountain. His provocative address to the cadet wing provided powerful truths to young men and women heading towards current and future wars. Ben Fountain’s dissection of the marketing and selling of war was nothing short of stunning. His accessible and informed voice prompted the soon-to-be officers to more fully interrogate the high stakes enterprise they were about to enter."
--Donald Anderson, Writer in Residence, United States Air Force Academy
“Ben was a dream to work with. He was eager to talk in advance to understand our expectations which I appreciated immensely. And he went above and beyond for his whole visit to make sure that he connected with each audience. He was immensely kind and generous with the students, the audience, and the staff.”
--Rebecca Hoogs, Associate Director, Seattle Arts & Lectures
Praise for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk:
"[An] inspired, blistering war novel...Though it covers only a few hours, the book is a gripping, eloquent provocation. Class, privilege, power, politics, sex, commerce and the life-or-death dynamics of battle all figure in Billy Lynn's surreal game day experience."
-- New York Times
"Brilliantly done . . . grand, intimate, and joyous."
-- New York Times Book Review
"Fountain's excellent first novel follows a group of soldiers at a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day...Through the eyes of the titular soldier, Fountain creates a minutely observed portrait of a society with woefully misplaced priorities. [Fountain has] a pitch-perfect ear for American talk..."
-- The New Yorker
"So much of Fountain's work...reads with an easy grace.... [S]ometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it's just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table."
-- Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
"[T]he Catch-22 of the Iraq War....Fountain applies the heat of his wicked sense of humor while you face the truth of who we have become. Live one day inside Billy Lynn's head and you'll never again see our soldiers or America in the same way." -- Karl Marlantes, bestselling author of Matterhorn
"Passionate, irreverent, utterly relevant Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk offers an unforgettable portrait of a reluctant hero. Ben Fountain writes like a man inspired and his razor sharp exploration of our contemporary ironies will break your heart."
-- Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
"Ben Fountain stormed to the front lines of American fiction when he published his astonishing first collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. His first novel will raise his stature and add to his splendid reputation. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is both hilarious and heartbreaking."
-- Pat Conroy, author of My Reading Life
"A brilliantly conceived first novel . . . The irony, sorrow, anger and examples of cognitive dissonance that suffuse this novel make it one of the most moving and remarkable novels I've ever read."
-- Nancy Pearl, NPR, Morning Edition
"A masterful echo of Catch-22, with war in Iraq at the center. ...a gut-punch of a debut novel...There's hardly a false note, or even a slightly off-pitch one, in Fountain's sympathetic, damning and structurally ambitious novel."
-- Washington Post
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is not merely good; it's Pulitzer Prize-quality good . . . A bracing, fearless and uproarious satire of how contemporary war is waged and sold to the American public."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Ben Fountain combines blistering, beautiful language with razor-sharp insight...and has written a funny novel that provides skewering critiques of America's obsession with sports, spectacle, and war."
-- Huffington Post
"Darkly comic...Rarely does such a ruminative novel close with such momentum."
-- Los Angeles Times
"It's a darkly humorous satire about the war at home, absurd and believable at the same time."
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a big one. This is the brush-clearing Bush book we've been waiting for."
-- Harper's Magazine
"The best book about the Iraq War and Destiny's Child that you'll ever read."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"Fountain's strength as a writer is that he not only can conjure up this all-too-realistic-sounding mob, but also the young believably innocent soul for our times, Specialist Billy Lynn. And from the first page I found myself rooting for him, often from the edge of my seat."
-- Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[A] masterly . . . tightly structured book [with] a sprawling amount of drama and emotion."
-- The Rumpus
"Biting, thoughtful, and absolutely spot-on. . . . This postmodern swirl of inner substance, yellow ribbons, and good(ish) intentions is at the core of Ben Fountain's brilliant Bush-era novel."
-- The Daily Beast
Praise for Brief Encounters with Che Guevara:
"An exceptional story collection. . . Rather than glamorize his protagonists through their ties to troubled lands, he humanizes the troubled lands through their ties to his unpretentious protagonists. His plain-speaking characters jolly readers into absorbing unresolvable geopolitical quandaries along with their entertainment. His ear for dialect, both exotic and homegrown, and his impartial, assessing eye remind us that misfortune needs no passport. Each of these eight stories is as rich as a novel. . . Throughout his book, Fountain makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange, showing the human factor that links seemingly diverse nations. Heartbreaking, absurd, deftly drawn. . ."
-- New York Times Book Review
"People generally don't want to buy [short stories], it seems, but people ought to buy this one... Many of these stories are not only ironic but downright funny - at the same time that they feel solid and real and invested with a genuine pathos. . .Fountain handles the action with the smooth virtuosity of [Robert] Stone or Graham Greene or John le Carre...For 25 years, American short stories have turned relentlessly inward; it's refreshing how Fountain's stories reach for a broader engagement. Well before the turn of the 21st century there was a growing need for Americans to understand and imagine more than they do about the rest of the world. This book is a step in the right direction."
-- Boston Sunday Globe
"Fountain prowls similar turf to that of Tom Bissell, Gary Shteyngart and even early Thomas Pynchon, and he shares their fierce love of language and predilection for the absurd. The stories. . . are rendered in a hyper-realistic style that brings the not-so-distant past to life. The sentence are breezy yet muscular, and the writing never feels too tidy or too careful. . . utterly fascinating. . . an impressive performance from an author with a gift for reaching into the past and producing something compelling and new."
-- Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Wonderfully realized collection. . . the best reason to read Brief Encounters With Che Guevara is for its spectacularly precise writing. Line by line, word by word, Fountain chooses just the right details, metaphors, similes and descriptions, so that the reader says, yes, that's right, that's how it is. Fountain's language reveals his ability to depict the subtlest of feeling and to appreciate detail that makes life rendered in sentences seem as life lived."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Ultimately, these are stories about people, mostly American innocents abroad, who want the world to be other than it is, who pay the price for that hopeless desire. One would love to think that anyone in contemporary government, especially the Foreign Service, would chance to happen upon this book. But those who really need to learn its lessons are the ones who will pick it up for their attraction to that name in its masterly title: Che Guevara, the romanticized philosopher-warrior who so many of us wish in the depths of our nights hadn't been the killer that he was."