Genius in Disguise
Thomas Kunkel’s biography represents the first comprehensive effort to reckon with the role of THE NEW YORKER’s founding editor and his legacy. The Ross who appears in earlier biographies and memoirs—gruff, literal in his reading of fiction, distrustful of poetry, a Westerner (from Colorado) never quite at ease in New York City and yet devoted to producing a world-class magazine that would entertain and inform a literate, metropolitan audience, is present in Kunkel’s biography. Yet what had seemed a paradox in earlier accounts (his crudity in a sophisticated world) is superbly explained in this exemplary biography.
What mattered most to Ross was writing. He was first and last a reporter. By the time he was twenty-one, he had worked on several newspapers and developed a devotion to describing the world as accurately as possible. Intensely curious about nearly everything, he wanted to know the truth about a phenomenon no matter whether he cared for it or not. He thought people should know about the new books, plays, cultural and political events even if they (and sometimes Ross himself) rejected the values of what was reported in the magazine.
Perhaps because of his rough edges and areas of ignorance, Ross hired sophisticated editors and writers. Nearly all of them came to respect his courageous commitment to producing a first-rate magazine. Ross put writers first. He demanded seemingly endless revisions and arduous fact- checking, but...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
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