Geoffrey O'Brien

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Geoffrey O'Brien
Born1948 (age 75–76)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation(s)Poet, editor, critic, translator, historian

Geoffrey O'Brien (born 1948 New York City, New York) is an American poet, editor, book and film critic, translator, and cultural historian. In 1992, he joined the staff of the Library of America as executive editor, becoming editor-in-chief in 1998.[1]


O'Brien was born in New York City and grew up in Great Neck, Long Island. His mother, Margaret O'Brien, née Owens, was a theater actress, and his father was Joseph O'Brien, one of the original WMCA Good Guys.

O'Brien began publishing poetry and criticism in the 1960s. He has been a contributor to Artforum, Film Comment, The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review, Village Voice, New Republic, Bookforum, and, especially, to the New York Review of Books.[2] He has also been published in numerous other publications, including Filmmaker, American Heritage, The Armchair Detective, Bomb, Boston Globe, Fence, GQ, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Men’s Vogue, Mother Jones, The Nation, Newsday, and Slate, and has contributed many essays for liner notes for The Criterion Collection. In addition, his work has been included in numerous anthologies.

He has served as editor of The Reader's Catalog (1987–1991), a faculty member of The Writing Program at The New School, a contributing editor at Open City, and was a member of the selection committee for The New York Film Festival in 2003.

Literary style[edit]

Erudite but playful, O’Brien’s style as an essayist and reviewer is unique. Highly associative in approach, his dense, highbrow prose is often brought to bear upon the worlds of low-budget exploitation films and pulp fiction as well as more upscale and respectable venues of the cinematic, theater, literary, or popular music worlds. These wide-ranging pieces have been described as idiosyncratic “prose poems” [3][4] and tend towards partial autobiography in which he recollects youthful experiences as reader or viewer which — although they may or may not have been shared by his own readership — can lead deeply into unexpected aspects of the material at hand. Publishers Weekly noted "O'Brien's remarkable sensitivity" in Sonata for Jukebox, adding that "[m]ost striking, however, are the essays in which O'Brien explores the way music defined—and now defines how he remembers—his own formative youthful experiences, from the impact on his musical sensibility of his father, a popular radio disk jockey, to the way the pop music of the 1960s defined how he and his friends lived."[5]

Writing in Bookforum, Robert P. Baird described Early Autumn as a "book of elegant, often moving poems" "writ[ten] so comfortably in the elegiac mode that [O'Brien] sometimes makes us forget poetry was equipped to handle any other."[6] Nathaniel Tarn wondered whether O'Brien, in Red Sky Café, "endows these poems with such a flowing sense of narrative, so that, together with everything else you expect from a poem today, you get such a wonderful and rare gift: a story that you can read as such as if the poem were a novel in micrograms?"[7] Tarn concluded that "O’B[rien] is hands down the most elegant poet writing today."[8]

Awards and accolades[edit]


Reviews and cultural criticism[edit]


  • O'Brien, Geoffrey (2010), The Fall of the House of Walworth: Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America, Henry Holt.


Anthology contributor[edit]



External links[edit]