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David Benjamin Rakoff (November 27, 1964 – August 9, 2012) was a Canadian-born American writer based in New York City, who was noted for his humorous and sometimes autobiographical non-fiction essays. Rakoff was an essayist, journalist, and actor, and a regular contributor to WBEZ's This American Life. Rakoff described himself as a "New York writer" who also happened to be a "Canadian writer", a "mega Jewish writer", a "gay writer", and an "East Asian Studies major who has forgotten most of his Japanese" writer.
David Rakoff was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the youngest of three children. His brother, the comedian Simon Rakoff, is four years older than David. Their sister, Ruth Rakoff, author of the cancer memoir When My World Was Very Small, is the middle child. Rakoff has said that he and his siblings were close as children. Rakoff's mother, Gina Shochat-Rakoff, is a doctor who has practised psychotherapy and his father, Vivian Rakoff, is a psychiatrist. Rakoff has written that almost every generation of his family fled from one place to another. Rakoff's grandparents, who were Jewish, fled Latvia and Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century and settled in South Africa. The Rakoff family left South Africa in 1961, for political reasons, and moved to Montreal for seven years. In 1967, when he was three, Rakoff's family relocated to Toronto. As an adult, he said that he identified as Jewish.
Rakoff attended high school at the Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, and graduated in 1982. That year, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, where he majored in East Asian Studies and studied dance. Rakoff spent his third year of college at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and graduated in 1986. He worked in Japan as a translator with a fine arts publisher. His work was interrupted after four months when, at age 22, he became ill with Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphatic cancer which he has referred to as "a touch of cancer". He returned to Toronto for 18 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
From 1982, Rakoff lived in the United States (minus his four-month stay in Japan in 1986), first as a student, then as a resident alien. In the early 1990s he was issued a green card, a subject about which he wrote in one of his early newspaper articles. After living in the United States for 21 years, Rakoff was motivated by a desire to participate in the political process and applied for U.S. citizenship. Rakoff chronicled the experience of becoming an American citizen in an essay published in Don't Get Too Comfortable.. He became a U.S. citizen in 2003, while at the same time retaining his Canadian citizenship.
In 2010, while writing the book Half Empty, Rakoff was diagnosed with a malignant tumor and Hodgkin's lymphoma, and later developed a post-radiation sarcoma behind his left collarbone and began chemotherapy. He died in Manhattan on August 9, 2012.
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