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Chatwin, Bruce (1940-1989)  
 
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British novelist, journalist, and essayist Bruce Chatwin, who blurred the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction in his writing, is perhaps best known for In Patagonia (1977), his first book, which instantly established him as one of his generation's foremost travel writers, as well as the spare, elegantly crafted novel Utz (1988).

Chatwin was remarkably well-liked and admired by critics and colleagues alike. "Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin," the renowned scholar Andrew Harvey once wrote, "wanted to be talked about, as he [was], with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books."

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In a 1988 article for Publishers Weekly, Chatwin was described as having "the preppie good looks of Robert Redford and the luminous blue eyes of a possum." A secretive bisexual, Chatwin had numerous sexual liaisons with both men and women while married to the same woman for 23 years. One of his lovers, Miranda Rothschild, described him as "out to seduce everyone, it doesn't matter if you are male, female, an ocelot, or a tea-cosy."

Another lover, the fashion designer Jasper Conran, said, "Probably there was no one Bruce loved more than himself."

Chatwin's elusiveness about his sexuality appears to have had an impact on his writing style as well. As The London Sunday Times Books noted, "his polished prose subtly distanced him; yet their blend of intellectual passion and emotional coldness, the postmodern glitter of surface and patchwork, shorn of all authorial judgment, provoked widespread curiosity about his life."

The writer Salman Rushdie, a loyal friend, described Chatwin's complex sexuality as "the creature at the perimeter prowling around. All this fantastic entertainment and language and originality and erudition and display [was] a kind of hedge against not letting out the truth."

He was born Bruce Charles Chatwin on May 13, 1940 in Sheffield, England to Charles Leslie and Margharita (Turnell) Chatwin. During World War II, his father, a lawyer in civilian life, served in the Navy, obliging Chatwin and his mother to move often, staying with friends and relatives in various places throughout Britain. This marked the beginning for him of a lifetime of travel and wanderlust.

After secondary school education at Marlborough College, Chatwin tried briefly to obtain employment as an actor, which his parents gently but firmly discouraged. In 1958, he went to work as a porter at Sotheby & Company, the London art auction house, where he quickly rose to art auctioneer and director of modern art. "I was an instant expert," Chatwin later recalled, "flying here and there to pronounce, with unbelievable arrogance, on the value or authenticity of works of art."

In 1965, and much to the surprise of many of his friends who were aware of his ambivalent sexuality, Chatwin married the American Elizabeth Chanler, whom he had met while working at Sotheby's. She shared his passion for adventure, although after their marriage the two rarely traveled together.

The following year, Chatwin quit Sotheby's, which had just offered him a partnership, and enrolled in Edinburgh University to study archeology. While at university, Chatwin supported himself in part by reselling a private collection of antiquities he had assembled during his career as an art auctioneer. He concentrated his archaeology studies on field work in Afghanistan and the African Sahara, becoming fascinated with nomadic peoples. His theories on nomadic cultures would later influence his work as an essayist, travel writer, and novelist.

Feeling constricted in a university setting, Chatwin left school without graduating and in 1973 began work as a journalist for the London Sunday Times Magazine, a position that enabled him to combine his love of travel with his growing interest in narrative.

He eventually quit his job at the Sunday Times to concentrate on his own writing, and in 1977, after six months of traveling in the southernmost tip of South America, published his first book, In Patagonia. The book became an instant success, and his artful and eccentric interweaving of travel, history, anthropology, and personal anecdote established Chatwin as one of his generation's preeminent travel writers and an elegant literary craftsman.

In 1978 the book won the Hawthornden Prize, the oldest of the British literary prizes awarded annually for the best work of imaginative literature, and a year later was honored with the E.M. Forster Award.

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