Renata Adler

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Renata Adler
Born Renata Adler
(1938-10-19) October 19, 1938 (age 75)
Milan, Italy
Pen name Brett Daniels
Occupation Novelist, Non-fiction writer, Journalist, Essayist, Critic
Nationality American
Period 1963-present
Notable works Towards A Radical Middle(1970)
A Year in the Dark (1970)
Speedboat(1976)
Pitch Dark (1983)
Reckless Disregard (1986)
Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker (1999)
Canaries in the Mineshaft (2001)
Irreparable Harm (2004)
Notable awards Guggenheim Fellowship, Fulbright, O.Henry Prize (Best Short Story of 1978 "Brownstone")
Children Stephen P. M. Adler

Renata Adler (born October 19, 1938) is an American author, journalist and film critic.

Background and education[edit]

Adler was born in Milan, Italy, and grew up in Danbury, Connecticut.[1] (Her parents had fled Nazi Germany in 1933.)[2] After gaining a BA in philosophy and German from Bryn Mawr, where she studied under José Ferrater Mora, Adler studied for an MA in comparative literature at Harvard under I. A. Richards and Roman Jakobson, before pursuing her interest in philosophy, linguistics and structuralism at the Sorbonne, where she gained a D. d'E.S. under the tutelage of Jean Wahl and Claude Lévi-Strauss. She later received her J.D. from Yale Law School, and an honorary doctorate of laws from Georgetown University.

Journalism[edit]

In 1962, Adler became a staff writer-reporter for The New Yorker, and in 1968-69, she served as chief film critic for the New York Times. Her film reviews were collected in her book A Year in the Dark. She then rejoined the staff of The New Yorker, where she remained for four decades.[2] Her reporting and essays for The New Yorker on politics, war, and civil rights were reprinted in Toward a Radical Middle. Her introduction to that volume provided an early definition of radical centrism as a political philosophy.[3] Her "Letter from the Palmer House" was included in The Best Magazine Articles of the Seventies.

In 1980, upon the publication of her New Yorker colleague Pauline Kael's collection When the Lights Go Down, she published an 8,000-word review in The New York Review of Books that dismissed the book as "jarringly, piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless",[4] arguing that Kael's post-1960s work contained "nothing certainly of intelligence or sensibility", and faulting her "quirks [and] mannerisms", including Kael's repeated use of the "bullying" imperative and rhetorical question. The piece, which stunned Kael and quickly became infamous in literary circles,[5] was described by Time magazine as "the New York literary Mafia['s] bloodiest case of assault and battery in years."[6]

Books[edit]

Fiction[edit]

Adler is also a writer of fiction. In 1974, her short story "Brownstone" won first prize in the O. Henry Awards. Her novel Speedboat won the Ernest Hemingway Award for Best First Novel of 1976. In 2010, members of the National Book Critics Circle called for the novel to be returned to print.[7] Speedboat was re-published by New York Review Books on March 19, 2013.

Her next novel, Pitch Dark (also re-published by New York Review Books on March 19, 2013), was a sequel. "Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler's", critic John Leonard wrote in Vanity Fair. The novel takes certain theoretical tenets from post-structuralism (particularly the notion that meaning is continually altered by past instantiations of events/signs as well as future events/signs) and applies them to narratology.

Non-fiction[edit]

Adler's book Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al., Sharon v. Time (1986), an account of two libel trials and the First Amendment, was also praised: "This book should be under the Christmas tree of every lawyer and journalist", wrote William B. Shannon in The Washington Post; Edwin M. Yoder wrote, also in The Washington Post, "Reckless Disregard is the best book about American journalism of our time."

Her book Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker (1999) described what she saw as the magazine's decline in the 1980s and 1990s. Her sharp criticisms of various journalists, editors, and publishing figures excited controversy. The New York Times called it an "irritable little book" and criticized Adler for claiming that famed Watergate judge John Sirica was a "corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest figure, with a close connection to Senator Joseph McCarthy and clear ties to organized crime", without offering any proof.[8] Adler rebutted this accusation in a detailed article "A Court of No Appeal", published in Harper's Magazine, August 2000.[9]

In 2001, Adler published Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and the Media, a collection of pieces from The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper's, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, and The New York Review of Books. Some of these, on the National Guard, Biafra, Pauline Kael, soap operas, the impeachment inquiries (of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton), and the press, had received awards.[citation needed]

In 2008, Adler contributed an essay to the Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibition catalog Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power. Her introduction, a memoir of her close friendship and work with the photographer, includes details of her work as editor of Avedon's photo-essay for Rolling Stone magazine, "The Family" (1976).

Honors[edit]

In 1968, Adler's essay "Letter from the Palmer House", which appeared in The New Yorker, was included in The Best Magazine Articles of 1967. In 1975, Adler's short story "Brownstone" received first prize in the O. Henry Awards Best Short Stories of 1974. The same story was selected for the O. Henry Collection Best Short Stories of the Seventies. Adler's novel Speedboat received the Ernest Hemingway prize as the best first novel of 1976. In 1987, Adler was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That same year, she received an honorary doctorate from the Georgetown University School of Law. Her "Letter from Selma" has been published in the Library of America volume of Best Civil Rights Reporting. An essay from her tenure as film critic of The New York Times is included in the Library of America volume of American Film Criticism. In 2004, she served as a media fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. In 2005, Adler became a Branford fellow at Yale University; she had been a Trumbull fellow at Yale from 1967 to 1979.[10]

Criticism[edit]

In 1989, Spy magazine named her one of the "10 Most Litigious New Yorkers." [11]

That same year, Bob Woodward said in a Playboy magazine interview that Adler had "a kind of infantile ignorance about the way reporters work, because she's not a practicing journalist."

Writing in The New York Times Magazine in 2000, Arthur Lubow found conversation with Adler to be “widely allusive and monumentally vague, in which pronouns lack antecedents and witticisms are anticipated and responded to without there being any need to utter them into the common air.” He concluded, “I felt I might have wandered into a late novel by Henry James. 'It can't be,' she would say. 'I think you're right. It can't be. And yet. No, it can't be.'"[12]

Bibliography[edit]

  • A Year in the Dark: Journal of a Film Critic, 1968-69. New York: Random House. 1969. 
  • Toward a Radical Middle: Fourteen Pieces of Reporting and Criticism. New York: Random House. 1970. 
  • Speedboat. New York: Random House. 1976. ISBN 0-394-48876-8. 
  • Pitch Dark. New York: Knopf. 1983. ISBN 0-394-50374-0. 
  • Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al., Sharon v. Time. New York: Knopf. 1986. ISBN 0-394-52751-8. 
  • Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1999. ISBN 0-684-80816-1. 
  • Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and the Media. New York: St. Martin's Press. 2001. ISBN 0-312-27520-X. 
  • Irreparable Harm: The U.S. Supreme Court and the Decision that Made George W. Bush President. Hoboken, New Jersey: Melville House Pub. 2004. ISBN 0-9749609-5-0. 

Personal[edit]

Adler taught for three years in both the University Professors Honors Program and the Journalism Department of Boston University. Her son Stephen (born 1986) is a filmmaker in New York City.

Notes[edit]