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.