Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker

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WINNER OF THE SPERBER PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY This fascinating biography reveals the untold story of the legendary New Yorker profile writer—author of Joe Gould’s Secret and Up in the Old Hotel—and unravels the mystery behind one of literary history’s greatest disappearing acts.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Joseph Mitchell was Southern to the core. But from the 1930s to the 1960s, he was the voice of New York City. Readers of The New Yorker cherished his intimate sketches of the people who made the city tick—from Mohawk steelworkers to Staten Island oystermen, from homeless intellectual Joe Gould to Old John McSorley, founder of the city’s most famous saloon. Mitchell’s literary sensibility combined with a journalistic eye for detail produced a writing style that would inspire New Journalism luminaries such as Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion.
 
Then, all of a sudden, his stories stopped appearing. For thirty years, Mitchell showed up for work at The New Yorker, but he produced . . . nothing. Did he have something new and exciting in store? Was he working on a major project? Or was he bedeviled by an epic case of writer’s block?
 
The first full-length biography of Joseph Mitchell, based on the thousands of archival pages he left behind and dozens of interviews, Man in Profile pieces together the life of this beloved and enigmatic literary legend and answers the question that has plagued readers and critics for decades: What was Joe Mitchell doing all those years?
 
By the time of his death in 1996, Mitchell was less well known for his elegant writing than for his J. D. Salinger–like retreat from the public eye. For thirty years, Mitchell had wandered the streets of New York, chronicling the lives of everyday people and publishing them in the most prestigious publication in town. But by the 1970s, crime, homelessness, and a crumbling infrastructure had transformed the city Mitchell understood so well and spoke for so articulately. He could barely recognize it. As he said to a friend late in life, “I’m living in a state of confusion.”
 
Fifty years after his last story appeared, and almost two decades after his death, Joseph Mitchell still has legions of fans, and his story—especially the mystery of his “disappearance”—continues to fascinate. With a colorful cast of characters that includes Harold Ross, A. J. Liebling, Tina Brown, James Thurber, and William Shawn, Man in Profile goes a long way to solving that mystery—and bringing this lion of American journalism out of the shadows that once threatened to swallow him.
 
Praise for Man in Profile
 
“[An] authoritative new biography [about] our greatest literary journalist . . . Kunkel is the ideal biographer of Joseph Mitchell: As . . . a writer and craftsman worthy of his subject.”—Blake Bailey, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
 
“A richly persuasive portrait of a man who cared about everybody and everything.”London Review of Books

“Mitchell’s life and achievements are brought vividly alive in [this] splendid book.”Chicago Tribune

“A thoughtful and sympathetic new biography.”—Ruth Franklin, The Atlantic
 
“Excellent . . . A first-rate Mitchell biography was very much in order.”The Wall Street Journal


From the Hardcover edition.
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About the author

Thomas Kunkel is the president of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He has served as president of American Journalism Review and as dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. He is the author or editor of five previous books, including Genius in Disguise, Enormous Prayers, and Letters from the Editor. He and his wife, Debra, have four grown daughters.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Random House
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Published on
Apr 28, 2015
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9780812997521
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary Figures
History / United States / 20th Century
Literary Criticism / American / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The enduring cult classic by an icon of American journalism

Acclaimed journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker Joseph Mitchell tells the story of Joe Gould, “an odd and penniless and unemployable little man who came to this city in 1916 and ducked and dodged and held on as hard as he could for over thirty-five years.” Written originally as two separate profiles (“Professor Sea Gull” in 1942 and then “Joe Gould’s Secret” twenty-two years later), the biography captures both Mitchell and Gould at their finest. Over a twenty-year association, as Mitchell learns more about Gould and his epic Oral History—a reputedly nine-million-word collection of philosophizing, wanderings, and hearsay that the supposed Harvard man Gould termed “the informal history of the shirt-sleeved multitude”—he uncovers a secret that adds even more eccentricities to the already unusual story of the local legend. This bounteous and elusive history, so esteemed that even Pound and Cummings discussed it in letters, would ultimately serve to unlock the “lost soul named Joe Gould.”
 
Mitchell’s last major work before the writer’s block that left him virtually silent for thirty-two years, Joe Gould’s Secret captures one of American journalism’s ascendant young masters at his peak and serves to mark an artist-subject relationship for the ages. “You pick someone so close that in fact you are writing about yourself,” an aging Mitchell told the Washington Post four years before his death. “Talking to Joe Gould all those years he became me in a way, if you see what I mean.” And as the reader comes to understand Gould’s secret, Mitchell’s words become all the more prescient.
 
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Joseph Mitchell including rare images from the author’s estate.
An intimate journey across and in search of America, as told by one of its most beloved writers, in a deluxe centennial edition

In September 1960, John Steinbeck embarked on a journey across America. He felt that he might have lost touch with the country, with its speech, the smell of its grass and trees, its color and quality of light, the pulse of its people. To reassure himself, he set out on a voyage of rediscovery of the American identity, accompanied by a distinguished French poodle named Charley; and riding in a three-quarter-ton pickup truck named Rocinante.
 
His course took him through almost forty states: northward from Long Island to Maine; through the Midwest to Chicago; onward by way of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana (with which he fell in love), and Idaho to Seattle, south to San Francisco and his birthplace, Salinas; eastward through the Mojave, New Mexico, Arizona, to the vast hospitality of Texas, to New Orleans and a shocking drama of desegregation; finally, on the last leg, through Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York.
 
Travels with Charley in Search of America is an intimate look at one of America's most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. Written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—Travels with Charley is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade. This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition also features French flaps and deckle-edged paper.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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