BA, Vassar College. MA, Middlebury College. Editor at The New Yorker, 1992-2002; book editor, 2001-present. Book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Vogue, and The New York Review of Books. Edited books include Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Mostly True by Molly O’Neill, Aftermath by Joel Meyerowitz, The Surrender by Toni Bentley, Send by William Schwalbe and David Shipley, King’s Gambit by Paul Hoffman, and Violent Partners by Linda Mills. SLC, 2004–
Current undergraduate courses
Any writer who tries to capture the likeness of another—whether in biography, history, journalism, or art criticism—must face certain questions. What makes a good profile? What is the power dynamic between subject and writer? How does a subject’s place in the world determine the parameters of what may be written about him or her? To what extent is any portrait also a self-portrait? And how can the complexities of a personality be captured in several thousand—or even several hundred—words? In this course, we will tackle the various challenges of profile writing, such as choosing a good subject, interviewing, plotting, obtaining and telescoping biographical information, and defining the role of place in the portrait. Students will be expected to share their own work, identify what they admire or despise in other writers’ characterizations, and learn to read closely many masters of the genre: Joseph Mitchell, Tom Wolfe, Daphne Merkin, Janet Malcolm. We will also turn to shorter forms of writing—personal sketches, obituaries, brief reported pieces, fictional descriptions—to further illuminate what we mean when we talk about “identity” and “character.” The goal of this course is less to teach the art of profile writing than to make us all more alert to the subtleties of the form.
What do you think, and why does it matter? This class will explore and analyze several different forms of commentary beginning with book reviewing, moving into arts criticism and reportage, and ending with an exploration of the way that the Internet and other networked technologies are changing the face of opinion, criticism, and recommendation. The class will consider the following sorts of questions: How important is expertise when one is passing judgment on something? What is the role of “voice” in criticism? How can reportage function as a subtle form of criticism—or not? How does the medium affect the message? Does everyone’s opinion matter? How have criticism and opinion journalism changed in the last decade, and are those changes temporary or permanent? Can we predict the future? No familiarity with any of the above is necessary for this class. Its purpose is to make you a more effective writer and an intellectually engaged and discerning reader.