I was born in 1941 in New York, almost died when I was three months old, but recovered and attended the Little Red Schoolhouse. My mother was an editor at Fortune and a looker, my father an exporter, very handsome. What happened to me? We moved to Nyack, New York, when I was eleven and I went to Nyack Junior and Senior High School, where I made shaving cream in chemistry class with huge crystals in it. I graduated from Swarthmore College with High Honors in 1963 after shaving half my beard off, got an MA in English Literature from Johns Hopkins, taught in private school for three years, started working as a fact checker at The New Yorker in 1969, occasionally taking phone messages for a colleague from Truman Capote. “Twuman,” he said. I became an editor in 1976, was shed by Tina Brown in 1994 to her husband, Harry Evans, to work as a Senior Editor at Random House, where I eventually became Executive Editor in Chief, through 2007. Two of my six books have been New York Times notable titles (just to remind you that in baseball that would be a .333 average), I’ve won two O. Henry Awards for short fiction, and my novel, The Treatment, was made into a strange independent film of the same name, with Famke Janssen and Ian Holm. It played in New York for three days but was also shown on Virgin Atlantic, eastbound to London, for a day or two, I’ve been told. I’ve written humor, essays, reviews, and features for The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and many other journals and newspapers.
The writers I’ve worked with in one capacity or another are too numerous to mention but that hardly means I won’t mention them:
Isaac Bashevis Singer (Old World, very well dressed), Bernard Malamud (somewhat querulous), David Foster Wallace (walked very close to the walls), Jennifer Egan (beautiful, has a way of lifting her face and to the side when she’s amused), Colum McCann (slight, bewitching stutter), Scott Simon (great newsman, equally good novelist), Siddhartha Mukherjee (frighteningly smart and intense), Elmore Leonard (laconic, droll), Jonathan Kellerman (very good guitarist), Daniel Silva (demanding, precise), Elizabeth Strout (compassionate, a Mainer turned New Yorker), Simon Rich (allowed me to contribute some jokes), George Saunders (heavily influenced by his early career as a geophysical engineer and science writer) , Alice Munro (the literary love of my life, friendly and elusive at the same time), Mavis Gallant (great fun, once you call her bluff), Alan Sillitoe (true to his working-class roots), V. S. Pritchett (forbearing of my tinkering), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (a firebrand, who once told me he had quantified how many of my editorial suggestions he followed: something like 82 per cent), Charles McGrath (Boston two-terlet Irish turned Anglophile), Dave Barry (modest, generous), Billy Collins (funny, alert to everything), Winthrop Sargent (autumnal), Salman Rushdie (not easily edited), Pauline Kael (a character, rogueish), Max Frisch (redoubtable), Stanislaw Lem (playful), D. T. Max (wonderfully curious) , Curtis Sittenfeld (alert under her social charm), Allegra Goodman (so smart and original), Antonya Nelson (devoted to literature), Irvin Yalom (brilliant and sociable), Ann Packer (candid, courageous), Frank Conroy (august) , Richard Preston (a brave adventurer), William Trevor (a complete gent), Norman Rush (highly principled and funny), Stephen Millhauser (exacting, skeptical), Dan Chaon (prescient, vulnerable) , Sebastian Junger (guy’s guy, just as you would expect), Benjamin Kunkel (open, moral), Janet Malcolm (literarily crucial), Azar Nafisi (canny), Arthur Phillips (delightful, wizard of trivia), Katha Pollitt (staunch but interested in everything), Sister Helen Prejean (amazingly down to earth), Suzan Lori-Parks (distinctive, watchful), Julie Salamon (accessible, dedicated), A. S. Byatt (self-assured), Alfred Brendel (wry, distracted by the music in his head), Michael Cunningham (genial, frank), Michael Chabon (loves commas, highly imaginative), Deborah Garrison (lovely, earthy), Lucia Perillo (mordant, makes art of her illness [MS]), Reza Aslan (expert on Islam, vague about his own beliefs), Dean Ornish (avuncular), Matteo Pericoli (a visionary, proud of his English), Saul Steinberg (formidable), Dorothy Gallagher (economical on the page and in person), Tom Reiss (intense, scrupulous), Frank Delaney (candid, beyond charming), Noah Baumbach (funny in a minor key), John McPhee (misses nothing), Renata Adler (very strong opinions), Jane Kramer (an astute observer and a tireless collector of people), Caitlin Macy (public reader second only to Billy Collins), Michael Lavigne (a philosophical man and writer), Matthew Klam (completely irreverent, a good tennis player), Shannon Burke (private, mysterious), Amy Bloom (warm, curious), Ethan Canin (some kind of majesty about him; a good basketball player).
I’ve conducted interviews for PEN International, Symphony Space in Manhattan, BAM, the MFA program at Stony Brook (where I’m a professor), and other places. Am a founding partner of an Internet startup called bookandtalk.com, which is idling a little as I write this, and I have been sent on cultural missions by the State Department to the countries of Georgia and Nepal. There is more, I feel certain, but I’m tired. And so are you, no doubt.