Steven Millhauser (born 3 August 1943 in New York City) is an American novelist and short story writer.
When his novel, Martin Dressler, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1997, Millhauser, perhaps one of modern American fiction's most elusive characters, told an interviewer that it would not change his life one bit - "I dare it to," he was quoted as saying. The prize brought many of his older books back into print. As the patina of the prize faded however, they slowly retreated from the shelves and back into the hands of the small but devoted following he has always enjoyed.
Although Millhauser was born in New York City, he grew up in Connecticut. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965, and went on to pursue a doctorate in English at Brown University. He never completed his dissertation, but did complete a large, rambling novel -- eventually published in a pared-down form under the title From the Realm of Morpheus -- as well as Edwin Mullhouse.
Until the Pulitzer, Millhauser was best known for Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (Knopf, 1972). This remarkable novel, in which the fictional Cartwright plays Boswell to Edwin's Johnson, a writer whose career ends abruptly with his death at the tender age of 11, brought wide critical acclaim. Millhauser continued to ply his craft, following Edwin Mullhouse with Portrait of a Romantic (1977), and his first collection of short stories, In The Penny Arcade, in 1986. It was for his stories that Millhauser has become most admired; immaculately written, curiously vivid, they trod on fantastic boards in a manner reminiscent of Poe or Borges, but with a distinctively American voice. In them, mechanical cowboys at penny arcades came to life; curious amusement parks, museums, or catacombs beckoned with secret passageways and walking automata; dreamers dreamed dreams and children flew out their windows at night on magic carpets.
Millhauser's collections continued with The Barnum Museum (1990), Little Kingdoms (1993), and The Knife Thrower and Other Stories (1998). The unexpected success of Martin Dressler in 1997 brought Millhauser to the attention of a new generation of readers. In 2006, the film The Illusionist, based on Millhauser's short story "Eisenheim the Illusionist", was released. It was directed by Neil Burger and stars Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton; while it adds a new plot-line, the portions depicting Eisenheim's illusions are faithfully represented.