Thanks to a successful interview with a painfully shy E. B. White, a beautiful nineteen-year-old hazel-eyed Midwesterner landed a job as receptionist at The New Yorker. There she stayed for two decades, becoming the general office factotum—watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, and tragedies of the eccentric inhabitants of the eighteenth floor. In addition to taking their messages, Groth watered their plants, walked their dogs, boarded their cats, and sat their children (and houses) when they traveled. And although she dreamed of becoming a writer herself, she never advanced at the magazine.
This memoir of a particular time and place is as much about why that was so as it is about Groth’s fascinating relationships with poet John Berryman (who proposed marriage), essayist Joseph Mitchell (who took her to lunch every Friday), and playwright Muriel Spark (who invited her to Christmas dinner in Tuscany), as well as E. J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter Devries, Charles Addams, and many other New Yorkercontributors and bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village in its heyday.
During those single-in-the-city years, Groth tried on many identities—Nice Girl, Sex Pot, Dumb Blonde, World Traveler, Doctoral Candidate—but eventually she would have to leave The New Yorker to find her true self.
About Janet Groth
Janet Groth, Emeritus Professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, has also taught at Vassar, Brooklyn College, the University of Cincinnati, and Columbia. She was a Fulbright lecturer in Norway and a visiting fellow at Yale and is the author of Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time (for which she won the NEMLA Book Award) and coauthor of Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. She lives in New York City.
Well before she became a teacher and biographer, Groth (English Emeritus/SUNY-Plattsburgh; Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time, 1989, etc.) spent 21 years (1957–1978) behind the front desk at the New Yorker, taking messages, calming suspicious wives, babysitting and refusing John Berryman’s marriage proposals. The starry-eyed daughter of an alcoholic Iowa grocer, she arrived in Manhattan both educated and adorable, hoping for the byline that would buy her freedom. Instead, she had a series of disastrous romances and mostly became friends with the famous. Her steady lunch date was Joseph Mitchell, soon to become crippled by writer’s block; her thoughts on why he failed to deliver a great novel are intelligent and fascinating. Another friend was Muriel Spark, whom she recalls as both elegant and generous, if a questionable mother. Legendary editor William Shawn leaves her cold; she describes him as humorless and “sadomasochistic” toward writers. Despite her tendency toward clichés (“fame and fortune”; “it’s not who you are but who you know”), this bookish girl from flyover country who became a Mad Men–era hottie, and who found she had to leave this cozy nest in order to save herself, is very much an interesting character in her own right. – Kirkus Reviews
‘The Receptionist’: A plum seat — or not — at the top of the literary world
The Washington Post Book Review – August 20, 2012 (Excerpt)
Do we really need another book about the New Yorker? At this point, we’ve read so many — including Brendan Gill’s “Here at the New Yorker,” Ben Yagoda’s “About Town,” Renata Adler’s “Gone” and Lillian Ross’s “Here But Not Here” — that we feel as though we were there but not there.
Janet Groth’s memoir, “The Receptionist,” views the institution from a decidedly different vantage point. In 1957, with a writing prize and a fresh bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, Groth copped an interview with E.B. White. “What sort of work do you envision doing, Miss Groth?” he asked her. “Well, I want eventually to write, of course, but I would be glad to do anything in the publishing field,” the lovely blonde from Iowa answered. Anything, that is, except typing.
She was given a position on the 18th-floor reception desk and told that she was expected to wear “ladylike clothing” of the sort available at the now-defunct Peck & Peck. Her job was to preside over some 40 writers and half a dozen cartoonists, taking phone messages, watering plants, walking dogs, boarding cats and housesitting — what E.J. Kahn Jr. referred to in “About the New Yorker and Me” as “combination-receptionist-and-den-mother.” [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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