Douglas Coupland born 30 December 1961
Douglas Coupland is a major Canadian fiction writer as well as a playwright and visual artist.
His first book, the 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, became an international bestseller and popularised the terms 'McJob' and 'Generation X'. Much of Coupland's work explores the unexpected cultural shifts created by the impact of new technologies on middle class North American culture. Persistent themes include the conflict between secular and religious values, difficulty in ageing and taking on adult roles, ironic attitudes as a response to intense media saturation, and an aesthetic fascination with pop culture and mass culture.
Coupland was born on a Royal Canadian Air Force base in West Germany. He was the third child of four sons. Coupland's family returned to Canada four years later, settling in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was raised. He currently lives in West Vancouver.
Coupland left Vancouver as a teenager to study physics at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. There he stayed only one year before going back to Vancouver to study art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Trained as a sculptor, Coupland graduated and worked and studied in Japan and in Milan, Italy.
In 1985/86, Coupland attended the Japan-America Institute of Management Science in both Honolulu, Hawaii and Tokyo, Japan. He graduated with honours. In late 1986, he returned to Vancouver, where he began to write on popular culture for Vancouver Magazine and Western Living magazine. In 1988, he moved to Toronto to work on a now-defunct business magazine, Vista. In 1989, Coupland severed his magazine connections and began writing fiction.
His breakthrough debut novel was Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). It was critically praised for capturing the zeitgeist of his peer group, for whom its title provided a convenient label: he had literally provided one of the names for his whole generation.
Though his next novel, Shampoo Planet (1992), had a more conventional structure than its predecessor, there were similarities, including a detailed eye for the mores and minutiae of the lives of its young protagonists (video games, hippie parents and an obsession with consumer culture).
This novel was followed in 1993 by a collection of thematically linked short stories called Life After God.
Microserfs (1995) is centred on high-tech life in Seattle, Washington, and Palo Alto, California, contrasting the corporate culture of Microsoft with pre-dot-com bubble start-up companies. Microserfs also reflected Coupland’s art school roots. Much of the book’s page layout used bold and unusual typography and was grounded in Pop Art and Text Art, influenced by artists such as Andy Warhol and Jenny Holzer. Because of Coupland’s lack of roots in traditional literary academia, critics had a hard time locating the meaning and intent of these pages. A decade later, this use of typography is being understood as a bridge between the art and literary worlds.
1997’s Girlfriend in a Coma (with a title from The Smiths) showed Coupland’s willingness to tackle broader themes and featured some of his most mature writing. Like the earlier novels, however, some critics disapproved of its experimental structure.
With its adoption of supernatural elements, Girlfriend in a Coma also marked a change in Coupland's work. Hitherto, his narratives were focused on conventional characters living in a carefully drawn but instantly recognisable modern world. The plots of Girlfriend in a Coma and his subsequent novels have all introduced either supernatural occurrences or involve 'low probability events' (e.g. air disasters, meteorite impacts). This change has moved Coupland away from his earlier generation-defining work, but has allowed him to develop and explore new and darker themes.
While his books are rich in humour, observation and carefully drawn vignettes, some of Coupland's early critics noted a tendency for the plot development to be lost amongst these elements. The apocalyptic ending of Girlfriend in a Coma, for example, was seen by some to be forced and out of step with the remainder. Miss Wyoming (1999), his next work of fiction, was considered by some to be a more rounded and satisfying, even though Coupland himself considers it as a light comic novel.
In Japan in 2001, Coupland published God Hates Japan, a Japanese language novel done in collaboration with Vancouver computer animator Michael Howatson. The novel describes psychic malaise in Tokyo after the collapse of the 1980s economic bubble. That same year, Coupland also published All Families Are Psychotic, a comic novel exploring familial disintegration using the urban Florida landscape as a metaphor for human relationships.
In 2002 Coupland collaborated with French conceptual art maker Pierre Huyghe on School Spirit, a book that explored the ominous and unexpected darkness in high school environments. At the time Coupland was writing Hey Nostradamus!, a novel that was published in 2003. This was a dark story that explored the transmission of religious and secular beliefs from one generation to the next. It used the backdrop of a high school shooting massacre similar to that of the April 1999 Columbine Massacre in Colorado. As with all of Coupland’s novels, it was distinctly different from the novel preceding it. The book was well received and was shortlisted for several book awards.
In 2004, Coupland published Eleanor Rigby, a novel about human loneliness, its title coming from the Beatles song of the same name.
In 2006 Coupland published JPod, which he described as a sequel 'in spirit' to 1995’s Microserfs. JPod explores the lives of tech workers in a Vancouver computer game company, which appears to be loosely based on Electronic Arts. The novel is an exercise in black comedy that investigates life inside an amoral culture bombarded with too much information from sources such as the internet. The book also explores Pop Art and text art typography themes Coupland explored in 1995.
In 2001, Coupland stopped writing for magazines and concentrated more on his visual art. His work is a continuation of the Pop Art sensibility, often bluring the distinction between art and design. In 2005, he began to explore the relationship between literary and visual arts cultures. Using text and lyrics from such pop culture sources as R.E.M., The Smiths, Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, Coupland’s work explores the infinite number of ways in which a single sentence or lyric can be interpreted. Coupland also did a series of works in which he chewed up copies of his own books and wove them into hornets nests; in so doing, breaking the link between modernism and nature.
Coupland has also written several non-fiction books and various screenplays.
Coupland is gay (he came out in February 2005). He describes himself as being politically unaligned, and has espoused both conservative and liberal views on different matters.
In June 2007, Coupland was elected into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).
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