About Ayn Rand
Though her chosen name would one day grace the covers of major literary works, Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 2, 1905.
A vibrant young girl, she often fled from the morose world around her into the radiant, optimistic world of magazine fiction. At the age of eight, she began writing her own tales, and by nine, she decided to become a professional writer.
Fiction gave her a periodic repose from the frustration of living through the Russian Revolution, the first shots of which she witnessed from the balcony of her family's apartment. Her father's chemist shop was soon seized by the new communist government, and the Rosenbaums went from a comfortable existence to one of poverty and despair.
As a young woman she studied philosophy and history at the University of Leningrad, but soon realized her future would be dim if she remained in Russia. She began to focus on finding a way to move to America.
In 1926, at the age of twenty-one, Alissa Rosenbaum left Russia forever by obtaining a passport under the guise of visiting her relatives in Chicago. She arrived in New York with only fifty dollars in her pocket, but with passion in her eyes and a new name: Ayn Rand.
After a short stay in Chicago, she left for Hollywood to pursue a career in screenwriting. An auspicious encounter with Cecil B. DeMille enabled Rand to land work as a movie extra in his film King of Kings.
While on the set, she saw a man who took her breath away — and then lost sight of him. When she finally spotted him again on a public bus, she purposely tripped (!) him to ensure he wouldn't get away. Soon afterwards, Frank O'Connor became her husband and the great love of her life.
Ayn Rand worked odd jobs for the next decade, struggling to master the English language and honing her skills as a writer. She published her first novel, We the Living, in 1936. The novel did not achieve great success, however, partly due to American intellectuals' heightened infatuation, during this time, with communist Russia.
Though disappointed, Rand pressed on with her work. She began research for the novel that would make her famous: The Fountainhead. While working in an architect's office to gather background information for the project, she also penned the novella Anthem, which she published first in England, in 1938, and then later in the United States.
The publication of The Fountainhead in 1943 created a firestorm of controversy. Ayn Rand offered to the public a kind of hero they had never seen before: Howard Roark, a brilliant, passionate architect whose conviction and commitment to rational self-interest led him to blast through the throes of mediocrity. More than a half-century after its original publication, The Fountainhead continues to sell nearly a hundred thousand copies a year, in English and in many other languages around the world.
It was Atlas Shrugged, however, that would bring Ayn Rand her greatest fame. For more than a decade, she agonized over her magnum opus that would present, in dramatic form, her philosophical system that she ultimately named "Objectivism."
Where The Fountainhead portrayed one man's triumph against collectivistic forces in society, Atlas Shrugged painted a broader picture of that society and what happens when it loses its "men of the mind." Many decades later, Ayn Rand's heroes — Dagny Taggart, Francisco d'Anconia, Hank Rearden, and John Galt — continue to inspire readers with their integrity, passion for life, and commitment to productive achievement.
Atlas Shrugged would become Ayn Rand's final statement as a novelist. After its release in 1957, she went on to write non-fiction essays explaining her philosophy of Objectivism in greater detail, always stressing the critical importance of reason, individualism, and capitalism. Through lectures, columns, and public appearances, she continued to inspire audiences with her revolutionary ideas.
During the 1960s Ayn Rand's teachings were promoted widely through the activities of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, where Ayn Rand and protege Nathaniel Branden recorded and distributed seminal audio lectures on Objectivism for use at Ayn Rand clubs and discussion groups around the world. Today such resources — and new ones, such as annual Objectivism conferences — are provided by organizations like the Ayn Rand Institute and The Objectivist Center.
Among the many admirers of Ayn Rand's novels are such luminaries as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and former President Ronald Reagan. Other celebrities who cite Ayn Rand as an influence include actress Sharon Stone, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers, rock musician Neil Peart of Rush, comedian Jerry Lewis, football star Adam Vinatieri, India's first woman astronaut Kalpana Chawla (who died in the explosion of space shuttle Columbia), celebrity golfer David Duval, ABC News Correspondent John Stossel ... the list goes on and on. Even Hillary Clinton admitted to going through "a Rand phase."
Ayn Rand died in her New York apartment on March 6, 1982. Since her death, interest in her novels and ideas has only increased. Her life and work have been featured in books, documentaries, and print publications, and she was honored posthumously with a U.S. postage stamp of her likeness in 1999.
The design of the stamp, created by artist Nick Gaetano, is an apt tribute to the life of this revolutionary thinker and champion of the human spirit. It is an image of Ayn Rand's face, set against the skyscrapers she revered in her works as the embodiment of her own life's theme: the celebration of mankind's heroic potential.