10 of Our Favorite Profiles of Ten of Our Favorite Writers


This week, like everyone we know, we fell head over heels for Joel Lovell’s wonderful profile of Flavorpill favorite George Saunders in The New York Times Magazine. What with that and his amazing new collection, we’re thinking that this might just be the year that Saunders transitions from being every writer’s favorite writer to everybody‘s favorite writer — after all, when the cover of The New York Times Magazine calls out your book as the best of the year (in January, no less), that’s as good of a ticket to household name status as you’re likely to get, shy of any Oprah-gilding. For those of you who, like us, inhaled Lovell’s profile and found yourself itching for more great writing on great writers, we’ve put together a few great profiles that you can read online to slake your literary lust. Read through for some choice quotes and links to the original articles, and do point us toward your own favorite author profiles for further reading in the comments.

George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year , Joel Lovell (The New York Times Magazine, January 2013)

“Aside from all the formal invention and satirical energy of Saunders’s fiction, the main thing about it, which tends not to get its due, is how much it makes you feel. I’ve loved Saunders’s work for years and spent a lot of hours with him over the past few months trying to understand how he’s able to do what he does, but it has been a real struggle to find an accurate way to express my emotional response to his stories. One thing is that you read them and you feel known, if that makes any sense.”

Among the Wild Things (Maurice Sendak), Nat Hentoff (The New Yorker, January 1966)

“As I looked at him, I found that he reminded me of the children in his books, and I told him so. ‘Yes, they’re all a kind of caricature of me,’ he said. ‘They look as if they’d been hit on the head, and hit so hard they weren’t going to grow anymore. When I first started showing my work to children’s book editors, about seventeen years ago, they didn’t encourage me, and a major reason was the kind of children I drew. One editor, I remember, told me they were too European. What she meant was that they seemed ugly to her… It’s not that I don’t see the naturalistic beauty of a child. I’m very aware of that beauty, and I could draw it. I know the proportions of a child’s body. But I am trying to draw the way children feel—or, rather, the way I imagine they feel. It’s the way I know I felt as a child.’”

How Edward Albee is Still Redefining Himself, 50 Years After Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Jesse Green (New York Magazine, October 2012)

“But his toughness does seem to have changed in recent years. Both halves of his enfant terrible reputation have finally worn off. He no longer wastes much time on cut-glass insults meant to open veins or jeremiads against stupid critics and obtuse colleagues. These were behaviors that once led people to assume that the shocking, merciless characters of his breakthrough plays — like George and Martha, the apocalyptically bickering spouses of Virginia Woolf — were disguised self-portraits. Those characters remain shocking today; Albee less obviously so. Perhaps because he stopped drinking in the mid-eighties, and has never, he says, fallen off the wagon, or perhaps because of his grief over the death, in 2005, of his partner of nearly 35 years, the sculptor Jonathan Thomas, what once seemed galactically cold in him has been rubbed down and polished so much that it almost passes for warmth.”

Like Cormac McCarthy, But Funny (Charles Portis), Ed Park (The Believer, March 2003)

“In The New Journalism, Wolfe invokes the original laconic cutup, who happened to sit one desk behind him at the Trib office south of Times Square, as stubborn proof that the dream of the Novel—with its fortune-changing, culture-denting potential—never really died, even at a time when journalists were discovering new narrative ranges, fiction-trumping special effects. There was only one trophy worth typing for, one white whale worth the by-line and fishing wire, the Great, or even just the Pretty Good, American Novel, and Charlie Portis was going to try and snag it.”

The Children’s Author Who Actually Listens to Children (Lois Lowry), Dan Kois (The New York Times Magazine, October 2012)

“In 1978, just after Lowry published her first book and divorced her husband, she was asked to deliver the eighth-grade commencement speech at her local middle school in Maine. She was preceded to the lectern by the principal, who told the bored, uncomfortable kids that these were their golden years. When Lowry spoke, she told them the principal was misleading them. These weren’t their golden years at all. At best they were a dull beige. She reminisced about her own eighth-grade year, when she was obsessed with a girl in her class who had enormous breasts when Lowry had none.

The kids laughed. But when Lowry looked out at the parents, she later wrote, ‘their faces were like concrete.’ She realized that day that she could talk to kids or she could talk to adults, but not to both: ‘And so I chose the kids.'”

Going To The Territory (Ralph Ellison), Jervis Anderson (The New Yorker, November 1976)

“His eyes expressed a mixture of skepticism, gentleness, resignation, inner strength, and pain. Yet, watching him throughout the evening — throughout the weekend — I noticed that many bright surprises are hidden behind his melancholy exterior. There may break out, at any time, a sudden burst of joyous laughter, a long stream of excited chatter, a flash of street swagger and savvy, a swift slash of sarcasm, a gracefully understated piece of wit, or a coolly self-deprecatory remark — followed by laughter.”

David Mitchell, the Experimentalist , Wyatt Mason (The New York Times, June 2010)

“’I can’t bear living in this huge beautiful world,’ Mitchell said, gesturing to the rolling green hills and the glittering calm sea, ‘and not try to imitate it as best I can. That’s the desire and the drive. But it’s maybe closer to hunger or thirst. The only way I can quench it is to try to duplicate it on as huge a scale as I can possibly do. I want to capture that,” he said, turning in a circle on the sand and gesturing beyond the beach and the hills, ‘all the way around the world and all the way to your home and all the way around and back. I want to do all of that here and transmit it through ink.'”

Mugglemarch (J.K. Rowling), Ian Parker (The New Yorker, October 2012)

“She was ready for a change of genre. ‘I had a lot of real-world material in me, believe you me,’ Rowling said. ‘the thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy. You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.’ She then added, carefully, ‘It’s not that I just wanted to write about people having sex.'”

Rebel Without a Pause (Padgett Powell), Mark Berry (College of Charleston Magazine, September 2011)

“Working in the basement of a local church, Powell used a borrowed mimeograph machine to print on three sheets of legal-size paper, creating his “salacious and angry” Tough Shit, a magazine of naked name, dated May 15, 1970.

In it, he took to task his own “Heavenly Class of Seventy” on their class night and their choice of class gift: a trophy case, purchased with funds raised by the much-maligned magazine subscription campaign. He writes: “All in all, a good night, ending with smiling, happy faces filing out, cattlelike … with the [s]ame contentment of cows listening to the tinkle of their bells.”

In general, the tone throughout the articles is confrontational and sarcastic, a protest against authority – principals, guidance counselors, teachers, “pet” students – anyone who is The Man, or in collusion with Him. And Powell’s argument, for so many teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, is timeless: Wake up, you bovines!

Just Write It! (George R.R. Martin), Laura Miller (The New Yorker, April 2011)

“Like his closets, Martin’s head is crammed with people. By García’s count, there are already more than a thousand named characters in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” although many of them are mentioned only in passing. Martin was startled by the size of García’s census, but he enjoys being surprised by his own work. He thinks of himself as a “gardener”—he has a rough idea where he’s going but improvises along the way. He sometimes fleshes out only as much of his imaginary world as he needs to make a workable setting for the story. Tolkien was what Martin calls an “architect.” Tolkien created entire languages, mythologies, and histories for Middle-earth long before he wrote the novels set there. Martin told me that many of his fans assume that he is as meticulous a world-builder as Tolkien was. “They write to say, ‘I’m fascinated by the languages. I would like to do a study of High Valyrian’ ”—an ancient tongue. “ ‘Could you send me a glossary and a dictionary and the syntax?’ I have to write back and say, ‘I’ve invented seven words of High Valyrian.’””