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People of the Year 2015 | Philipp Meyer

The author of The Son — the epic, Pulitzer Prize nominated novel about a Texas oil-and-ranching dynasty that has been called “the most ambitious Texas novel in thirty years” — is actually not from Texas. At least not originally.

Philipp Meyer grew up in Baltimore, Maryland with parents who were “artsy bohemian types,” and although they weren’t always poor, they were struggling lower middle class by the time he left the house. “I never wanted to be poor after that,” he remembers vowing, and so even though he graduated from Cornell with a 600-page manuscript under his belt (“It was quite bad”) and an English degree, he headed into the world of investment banking as a derivatives trader at UBS on Wall Street.

Meyer kept writing on the side though, and halfway through his second manuscript (which he decided was “fine”), something changed for him: “I kind of knew I was an artist,” he says, and realizing he actually didn’t care about money, he confidently quit his banking job. “I never actually thought about it,” says Meyer. “It was just a switch [thrown]. I was like, ‘Oh this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”

Unfortunately, the literary world didn’t agree, at least not at first. “That second book I finished was rejected by every single literary agent in the country,” he says “It was a least a hundred, because I kept track.” Out of money and living in his parents’ basement, Meyer worked manual labor jobs for a bit while continuing to write. He applied to a slew of creative writing grad schools, and, you guessed it, got rejected by all of them.

Then Meyer had a “huge artistic turnaround — it actually was the beginning of my current trajectory” and when he applied to schools the second time around, he got into several, including the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin. UT is the place that not only launched his career, but converted him into a forever Austinite. (After living here on and off for the past 10 years, Meyer recently bought a home in Bouldin Creek.)

During his final year as a Michener fellow, Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau bought Meyer’s third manuscript, American Rust. It was on all accounts a critically successful book, and it sold well. But it didn’t sell like Meyers’ second novel, The Son. Published in 2013, The Son was a Pulitizer Prize finalist and landed on almost every “Ten Best Books of 2013” list there is. NPR called it “one of the most solid, unsparing pieces of American historical fiction to come out this century,” and The Washington Post said “it makes a viable claim to be a great American novel.”

Lately, Meyer has spent time in Los Angeles, running the writer’s room for AMC’s adaptation of The Son. “I got lucky because a lot of people wanted it,” he explains about selling the rights to The Son. “It was one of those things where it was take a seven-figure paycheck for the rights and walk away. That was pretty tempting.” But talking with his best friend Brian McGreevy (a fellow novelist and Michener graduate who adapted his own graphic novel, Hemlock Grove, for Netflix) he thought about the other option: having a hand in adapting the show himself. “It’s less money by a lot,” he says, “But I thought, artistically, it’d be interesting to adapt it.” And so he did.

Meyer is happy to be back in Austin, and is refreshingly honest about why here — not LA or New York City — is where he feels most at home. “It’s perfect,” he says of the Capital City. “There are enough creative people here that you can have a conversation with a lot of random people, and a lot of people are doing something artistic. Whether it’s music, visual art, or writing. So people get what that is. But also no one [cares]. And as much as I think I fantasize it’d be nice to have some level of public recognition…for the most part, you just want to be left alone.”

Meyer isn’t shy about his success, and even jokes, “Where is my Nobel Prize by the way?” But what he lacks in humility, the author makes up for in gratitude. When Meyer talks about his many achievements, he often stops himself, puts both hands together at his chest and says, “Thank you, universe.”

CREDITS

Photography by Chad Wadsworth | Hair by Jessica Casarez of Lip Service | Makeup by Dolce - Ivy Kim

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