What prompted you to write THE RECEPTIONIST?

I think I felt the urge many people my age experience – to set down (as honestly as I knew how) what it was like to live most of my adult life in the last half of the 20th C. in the USA. I meant it to be a kind of witness to my times.

 

How would you describe your experience at The New Yorker?

I often describe it as the story of the longest lateral career in journalistic history.

Homage to Mr. Berryman

For a brief period in 1960 when he was in New York on academic vacation, the poet John Berryman was of the opinion that I would make him a good wife. He proposed this to me regularly. It seems he was, in the years between his second and third marriages, proposing to every halfway decent-looking woman he met. It was perhaps his way of acknowledging guilt at the failure of his previous marriages and an indication of his good intention to do better next time. Late in the sixties, at a women’s group, he came up when the issue of male commitment arose — as an example of overcorrection. Among the seven women in the room, it turned out that he had proposed to three of us. And that was only in New York, in his spare time. The campuses where he taught in those bachelor years, 1959 – 61, were checkered with other potential Mrs. Berrymans. So it was perhaps not the mark of distinction it seemed in the moment.