Sunday, February 14, 2010

"a superior chronicler of rapscallions"

The New Yorker, as J.D. Salinger's recent death served to remind us, has been a crucial outlet for writers for more than 80 years. A.J. Liebling, Lillian Ross, Joseph Mitchell, Calvin Trillin -- these are just a few of the voices the magazine has nourished and encouraged, been defined by and, in turn, helped to define.

Still, for every such contributor, there are numerous New Yorker writers whose legacies have drifted away over the decades like so much dust. St. Clair McKelway is one of these. For 37 years, McKelway was one of the New Yorker's most prolific and inventive nonfiction writers. In his time, he was regarded as a master of the long-form profile, a superior chronicler of rapscallions and low-rent hustlers. Indeed, when he was on his game, McKelway might have been the best nonfiction writer the magazine had -- this at a time when Liebling, Mitchell and E.J. Kahn Jr. were also producing signature work.

But if McKelway remains perhaps the greatest magazine writer that no one knows about, the publication of a new collection, "Reporting at Wit's End: Tales From the New Yorker" (Bloomsbury: 620 pp., $18 paper), brings with it the hope that his long-forgotten byline might be brought back to light.

1 comment:

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