Birth of a journalist


…or, for that matter, a novelist. Joseph Mitchell, author of Up in the Old Hotel, the book that taught me about listening to other people’s stories, remembers the landscape of his boyhood. Read it and maybe weep a little.

I used to climb a tremendous white oak high up on the hill of the branch, from one of whose topmost limbs, hidden by leaves, I could look out on a wide panorama of small farms on the southern side of the branch mostly owned by Negro farmers and watch people at work in cotton and tobacco fields who were entirely oblivious of course to the fact that they were being watched and being watched secretly and from aloft and from afar, a situation that made me feel Olympian but at the same time curiously lonely and alien and uneasy and cut off from the rest of the human race, the way a spy might feel, or a Peeping Tom.


  1. Quin Finnegan says

    You can always tell a great excerpt by how much you want it to go on. I’d like to know, for example, if he got bit by a rattlesnake, or whatever happened next.

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Is the novel good?

  3. reading piece, sees Google Play ad for ebooks: “Lust after the best titles of 2014”

  4. And, dammit, it’s stuff like this that makes me regret dropping my subscription…

    I wonder if this was the thing – this fragment of a fragment of a memoir – which he could be heard banging away at in his office behind a closed door well after he’d produced his last NYer story. (They let him keep an office out of respect for all he had accomplished for the mag.)

    Each day – who was it? Shawn? – it was reported he’d go to his office, peck away at his typewriter and leave the office. The editors never asked and Mitchell never told – it was a gentleman’s agreement of sorts that when the old man was ready, if he was ever ready, he’d show what he was doing. He kept his office for a number of years, worked and worked, everyone anticipating, finally, another Joseph Mitchell story. It didn’t materailize – and never did.

    Until now, perhaps?


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