Russell Baker Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Russell Wayne Baker became one of the best-known and well-respected writers of humor in the United States through his wry observations of everything from politics to rural life. His column in The New York Times, “The Observer,” enjoyed enormous success, running for several decades and garnering numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize. Baker also won a Pulitzer for the autobiographical Growing Up.

Baker was born in Morrisonville, Virginia, in 1925 to Benjamin and Lucy Baker. His father died of diabetes when Baker was five years old, at which time his mother sent his youngest sister to live with relatives while she took the two older children to find a financially stable future. Russell, his mother, and his other sister moved to several places in Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland. Eventually, with the help of relatives, Baltimore became a home to Lucy Baker and her children.

After a two-year service in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1945, Russell Baker attended The Johns Hopkins University and got his first writing job, for the Baltimore Sun, in 1947. He married Miriam Emily Nash on March 11, 1950, and they had three children, Kathleen, Allen, and Michael.

Baker worked for a time in London, writing a weekly column for the Sun entitled “From a Window on Fleet Street,” and in 1954 he was hired by The New York Times to be a staff reporter covering the White House, Congress, and the State Department. He reported on political activities in Washington for the next several years, until he decided to leave political reporting.

The New York Times offered him his own column as an incentive to stay. His first piece,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Grauer, Neil. Wits and Sages. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. A biographical work that also covers Jack Anderson, Erma Bombeck, Jimmy Breslin, David Broder, Art Buchwald, William F. Buckley, Jr., Ellen Goodman, James J. Kilpatrick, Carl T. Rowan, Mike Royko, and George F. Will.

Just, Ward. “Still Growing Up: A Reporter’s Journey.” The New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1989. Examines the influence of Baker’s life on his writing.

Lingeman, Richard. “Suspiciously Like Real Life.” The New York Times, October 17, 1982. A positive review of Growing Up that calls the autobiography “touching and funny, a hopeless muddle of sadness and laughter.”

“The Reluctant Debutante.” The New Yorker, March 8, 1993. Describes Baker’s appointment as the host of Public Broadcasting Service’s Masterpiece Theatre.

Sheppard, R. Z. “Restless on His Laurels.” Time, June 5, 1989. Another essay on the relationship bewteen Baker’s life and his work.