John Berendt

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John Berendt
Born (1939-12-05) 5 December 1939 (age 84)
Syracuse, New York, US
Alma materHarvard University
  • non-fiction

John Berendt (born December 5, 1939) is an American author, known for writing the best-selling non-fiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

Early life[edit]

Berendt grew up in Syracuse, New York, where both of his parents were writers. As an English major at Harvard University, he worked on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon. He graduated in 1961 and moved to New York City to pursue a journalism career.[1]


Upon moving to Savannah, Berendt lived in a carriage house behind 22 East Jones Street

Berendt was an associate editor of Esquire from 1961 to 1969, editor of New York magazine from 1977 to 1979 and a columnist for Esquire from 1982 to 1994.[1] In 1985, he moved to Savannah, Georgia,[2] to begin researching a new book, which was seven years in the making.[3] (The killing of Danny Hansford, which is the book's central story, happened four years before Berendt's arrival in the city.)[4] His initial plan was to spend three weeks at a time in Savannah, then return to New York City to write, but he changed his mind. "Things would happen if i was simply there," he said in 1997. "It made sense to stay, so I got a full-time apartment in Savannah." He lived, briefly, in a carriage house on East Charlton Lane,[3][5] behind 22 East Jones Street.[6]

External videos
video icon Booknotes interview with Berendt on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, August 28, 1997, C-SPAN

He published Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in 1994, and it became an overnight success. The book spent a record-breaking 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list[7] — still, to this day, the longest-standing best seller of the Times.

The story, unsettling and real, broke down the idea of the quintessential phenomenon of a true American city—only to reveal its quirks: its man walking an invisible dog; its voice of the drag queen; a high-society man in its elite community—all that somehow, unravels a murder mystery. Virtually seeming like a novel and reading like a tale, the non-fictional story is about the real-life events surrounding the murder trial of Jim Williams in Savannah, Georgia.[8] Berendt acknowledged that he fabricated some scenes and changed the sequence of some events.[9] The book was adapted into a 1997 film directed by Clint Eastwood. John Cusack plays John Kelso, a character loosely based on Berendt.

Berendt's second book, The City of Falling Angels, was published in September 2005.[10] It chronicles interwoven lives in Venice in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the La Fenice opera house. According to Kirkus Reviews, "Berendt does great justice to an exalted city that has rightly fascinated the likes of Henry James, Robert Browning, and many filmmakers throughout the world."[11]

In 2024, aged 84, he returned to Savannah, for his first speaking engagement in sixteen years, to sign copies of a 30th-anniversary edition of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: About the Author, January 20, 2009". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  2. ^ "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  3. ^ a b "User Clip: John Berendt's stay in Savannah |". Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  4. ^ "'Midnight' at 30: My look at The Book from the time and place it was written". The Savannahian. January 22, 2024. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  5. ^ Media, Milkyway (May 4, 2022). Summary of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Milkyway Media.
  6. ^ "Article clipped from The Atlanta Constitution". The Atlanta Constitution. October 26, 1994. p. 41. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  7. ^ "Barnes & Noble, Meet the Writers, "John Berendt - Biography"". May 23, 2014. Archived from the original on May 31, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  8. ^ Tolstoy, Leo (February 28, 1994). "Reading Group Center: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, January 20, 2009". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  9. ^ JULIA RAMEY, For the Chronicle (October 9, 2005). "Author John Berendt tells the truth this time - Houston Chronicle". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  10. ^ Penguin Reading Guides, The City of Falling Angels. Archived March 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS". Kirkus Reviews. May 20, 2010 [Aug. 1, 2005]. Retrieved February 21, 2023.
  12. ^ "John Berendt returns to Hostess City for Savannah Book Festival". WSAV-TV. February 19, 2024. Retrieved March 28, 2024.

Further reading[edit]

Archival resources[edit]

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