On the question of when the last time the New York Times Magazine deigned to publish a feature-length article about a woman novelist, a GalleyCat reader with a long memory cites Alex Witchel‘s profile of Gigi Levangie Grazer from May 2005… although she describes it by quoting Caitlin Flanagan‘s well-turned phrase about certain biographies of powerful women as “a literary pap smear meant at once to diagnose and humiliate.” Looking back at the story, even though it certainly doesn’t position Grazer as a signficiant star in the literary heavens, I can’t echo that assessment; there’s skewering, but Witchel’s not nearly as savage and condescending as she could be. (Or she’s just really, really good at deadpan, and I’m oblivious.) On the other hand, I don’t recall any male writers being asked by the Times to squat on their coffee tables.
Although it’s true that the focus on Grazer’s Beverly Hills environs makes for a superficial tone that ebbs throughout the piece, in the long run I’d venture to say that Witchel’s tooling around with Grazer was better executed than Charles McGrath‘s cruising the streets of Las Vegas with Charles Bock—it’s the frothier aspects that give Witchel’s story its best hooks, whereas McGrath’s feature seems like yet another Sunday piece on yet another potentially significant Literary Novelist, without even the pizazz of “Jonathan Franzen’s Big Book” or the one about Jonathan Safran Foer. And it’s not like McGrath can’t do this kind of story well; see, for example, his tagalong to Shalom Auslander‘s hometown. Maybe it’s just that Bock’s quiet dedication to his craft isn’t as viscerally dramatic as writing in the dark with a blindfold.
Another reader cited Laura Miller‘s praise for Maile Meloy back in 2003 as proof that the Times magazine takes women writers seriously, but that wasn’t really a profile, more like a 400-word endorsement.
(photo: Tierney Gearon/NYT)