Not every Stanford professor has been played by Leonardo DiCaprio on the big screen. But in 1993, the film adaptation Tobias Wolff’s acclaimed memoir “This Boy’s Life” starred DiCaprio alongside Robert De Niro as Wolff’s violent stepfather. Born in Alabama in 1945, Wolff had a tumultuous childhood following his parents’ divorce. He lied his way into a prestigious boarding school but was expelled two years later when he was found out. Wolff joined the army and was shipped out to Vietnam during the war. A second memoir, “In Pharaoh’s Army,” focuses on his military experience.
Tobias Wolff first arrived at Stanford as a master’s student after receiving his B.A. at Oxford University, and became a Stegner Fellow in 1975. He taught English at Syracuse for almost two decades before returning to Stanford to teach English and Creative Writing in 1997. He was director of the Creative Writing Program from 2000 to 2002.
Wolff is a decorated short story writer and has published four short story collections, most recently “Our Story Begins” (2008), which received The Story Prize. He has received the Rea Award for the Short Story, three O.Henry Awards, and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his novella “The Barracks Thief.”
He is closely associated with fellow writers Richard Ford and Raymond Carver – with whom he served on faculty at Syracuse – and the three were once tagged as “dirty realists.” In a 2008 interview for The Guardian, however, Wolff responded, “Oh please. Don’t go there. We were all mortified by this. “
Wolff’s work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s and more, and he has served as editor for numerous short story collections.
Returning to Stanford to teach in the 90s “[meant] coming home” for Wolff, who grew up on the West Coast. “The depth of learning and enthusiasm and intellectual commitment in my department is dazzling,” he said in an interview for Stanford Today in 1998. “Many of my colleagues were here when I taught back in the ’70s. So it is really being back among friends. I have extraordinary students.”