Daughter of an American diplomat, Helen DeWitt was born in a suburb of Washington, D.C. in 1957 and grew up in Latin America. Abandoning a degree at Smith College, she went to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in 1979 to study classics. A Senior Scholarship at Brasenose College enabled her to get a DPhil and discover Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa and Mel Brooks. She left academia in 1988 to write a novel; she had 100 unfinished novels on her hard drive when The Last Samurai was published in 2000 to international acclaim. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, was published in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. She has contributed installations to Artists Space in New York and was resident and participant in the Plastic Words series at Raven Row in London. In descending order of proficiency she knows Latin, Ancient Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese. She is based in Berlin.