Mary Hawthorne

Mary Hawthorne is on the staff of the New Yorker.

Disconnected Realities: In the Munro mould

Mary Hawthorne, 17 February 2005

If you open a road atlas at Ontario, you can see that the roads charted by the thin red and blue lines of Huron County, adhere to the geometry and history of acreage, drawing rectangles in a sprawl of rural sameness. At one intersection is the tiny town of Wingham (population c.2952), where Alice Munro was born in 1931, and twenty miles to the south, another tiny town: Clinton (population

Baudelairean: The Luck of Walker Evans

Mary Hawthorne, 5 February 2004

The early photographs of Walker Evans are now so familiar that it is easy to forget how radically different they seemed at the time, and to take their subtle influence for granted, or, now that the collective longing appears to be for nothing so much as to be relieved of the burden of thinking or remembering at all, to fail to discern it altogether. By the late 1950s, Evans was hovering on...

Wild-Eyed and Ready to Die: Dawn Powell

Mary Hawthorne, 22 February 2001

For more than thirty years, until her death in 1965, Dawn Powell lived and worked ceaselessly in Greenwich Village. She produced 15 novels, set in Manhattan or the small towns of her native Ohio, half a dozen plays, more than a hundred short stories and countless reviews and magazine articles (she regarded her work for Mademoiselle and the New Yorker with equal disdain). I had lived in...

A Traveller in Residence

Mary Hawthorne, 13 November 1997

On the 20th Floor of the old offices of the New Yorker, at 25 West 43rd Street, the elevators let out onto a narrow, desolate vestibule. Its floor was set with dirty beige linoleum tiles that matched the colour of its blank walls; a lumpish chair upholstered in cracked black leather and a scarred wooden table with a glass top and a glass ashtray resting on it stood next to a door that led to the offices inside. At one end, a receptionist sat in a tiny cubicle behind a Plexiglas partition, with a small sliding door to receive deliveries and a cut-out circle to talk through. One day not long after I had been hired, in 1981, I came out of the elevator to find a very small woman with pulled back, unwashed grey hair sitting in the chair and staring at the floor. She was wearing a black, oversized jacket and a black rumpled skirt that was very long – so long that I can’t remember her shoes. When the receptionist pressed the button to unlock the door and I passed by, the woman did not look up. When I went out at lunchtime, she was still sitting there, and she was there when I returned – in the same position, as though she hadn’t moved at all. She was gone when I left at the end of the day. I went home and forgot about the woman but, to my surprise, the following morning I again found her seated in the chair, examining the floor. As I waited for the elevator that evening, I watched her slowly rise from the chair to leave. All the while, she continued her expressionless musing, never raising her eyes. There was a paper cup with some left-over coffee in it on the table, and some stamped-out cigarettes in the ashtray. I never saw her again.’

Diary: Remembering Joseph Mitchell

Mary Hawthorne, 1 August 1996

Though we both came to the offices of the New Yorker nearly every day for 15 years, Joseph Mitchell and I were never introduced and we never introduced ourselves. I seldom saw him; mostly he stayed in his office with the door shut. But I knew who he was, almost from the day I was hired, and over time he came to know who I was too. Usually we ran into each other in the elevator, most often in the summer. He was an immaculate man who always seemed to be wearing the same plain clothes, year in and year out – a white cotton shirt, a dark tie, a tan poplin suit, a coconut-straw hat with a maroon and navy striped band. He was an avid reader of newspapers – his knowledge was said to be encyclopedic – and he always carried one around with him. One time I noticed it was the Irish Times; another, the Financial Times. He had a face that was more beautiful, because of what was behind it, than handsome, though it was that too. It was set with large, vivid-blue eyes that opened wide in pleased surprise when he encountered you. He would look into my face and smile sweetly and say, ‘Well, hello!’ When we parted, he would say, ‘Well, I’ll be seeing you.’ He had a Southern accent and his voice was smooth and lyrical; a colleague likened it to Bing Crosby’s. Now and then he would say something nice about an article I had written in the magazine or in one of his papers, and these comments filled me with a childish joy. He died on 24 May, of cancer, at the age of 87.’

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