(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Russell (Wayne) Baker 1925–

American nonfiction writer.

Baker is a highly regarded, widely read newspaper columnist and humorist. While serving on the Washington bureau of the New York Times during the mid-1950s and early 1960s, Baker earned recognition for his wry commentaries on the federal bureaucracy, many of which formed the basis of An American in Washington (1961). Since 1962, Baker has written the "Observer" column in the Times. The essays in this column satirize such issues as politics, the economy, and popular culture. Baker is especially praised for his insight into the human condition, particularly the daily problems of ordinary people.

Many of Baker's columns have been published in collections: No Cause For Panic (1969), Poor Russell's Almanac (1972; revised, 1982), and So This Is Depravity (1980). In 1979 Baker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary for his columns. He is the first humorist to win the award in that category since its inception in 1970. Baker's critically acclaimed autobiography Growing Up (1982) earned him another Pulitzer Prize in 1982. The book chronicles Baker's childhood and family life during the Great Depression. The quiet humor and the lack of melodrama in his portrayal of that era prompted critics to compare Growing Up to the works of Mark Twain. In a style which is understated yet powerful, Baker describes personal hardships with subtle emotion. Growing Up is considered a notable work of Americana. The Rescue of Miss Yaskell and Other Pipe Dreams (1983) is a recent collection of Baker's essays.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 11.)