Wurlitzer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but the family moved to New York City shortly after his birth. He is a descendant of Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831–1914), founder of the jukebox company of the same name, but the family fortune had long since been diminished by the time Wurlitzer came of age in the 1950s. When he was 17, he found work on an oil tanker and it was on this first trip he began to write. He spent time at Columbia University and in the Army, and continued to travel, spending time in Paris, and on Majorca where he worked as a secretary for author Robert Graves. He credits Graves with teaching him how to, "write short sentences." He returned to New York City in the mid 1960s where he met and befriended the artists Claes Oldenburg, Robert Frank, and Philip Glass, all of whom he collaborated with at some point. He is married to photographer Lynn Davis and splits his time between homes in upstate New York and Nova Scotia.
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