July 27, 2009
JOSEPH MITCHELL (1908-96) arrived in New York City from rural North Carolina the day after the stock market crashed in 1929. Following a few years as a newspaper reporter, he went to work for the New Yorker in 1937, as a chronicler of marginal existences, vestigial occupations, saloon life, harbor trades, and self-made characters. He had a gift for turning the rhythms of uneducated American speech into plain, stripped, lyrical modernist prose; he can now be seen as an heir of William Carlos Williams and a literary counterpart to Walker Evans. Of his five books, all but the first, My Ears Are Bent (1938), were collected in Up in the Old Hotel (1992). After 1964, he never published again, although he reported for work at the New Yorker every day for three more decades. “Sometimes, in the evening elevator,” Roger Angell would recall, “I heard him emit a small sigh, but he never complained, never explained.”
READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).