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Janet Groth

Author of The New Yorker memoir The Receptionist

In 1957 a beautiful young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker.  Janet Groth didn't expect to stay long at the reception desk, but stay she did, for twenty-one years, "with a birds-eye view of everything." Her widely praised memoir, The Receptionist: An Education at "The New Yorker," "is as much a window into the mythologized publication as it is a chronicle of one woman's self-discovery," according to the New York Times.

A bit of Mad Men, a bit of The Best of Everything, The Receptionist is a classic story of a small-town girl trying to make her way in the big city. Shy and self-doubting at that time, she recounts how she lacked the confidence and the female mentors to advance herself, wryly commenting now that she had "the longest lateral career in publishing history." She tells how she ran interference for angry wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers (John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell) at legendary watering holes throughout Greenwich Village, and was seduced, two-timed, proposed to, and manipulated by a few of those eccentric inhabitants of the eighteenth floor. But considering the long summer vacations, the New Yorker's funding of both her psychoanalysis and her graduate courses, the book parties and the front-row seat to New York literary life, Groth writes, "It is not clear to me who was exploiting whom."

Janet Groth finally found her calling after leaving The New Yorker in 1978, earning a PhD in twentieth-century literature from New York University in 1982. She is Emeritus Professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and 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 she is the author of Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time (for which she won the NEMLA Book Award) and co-author of Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. A gifted and witty raconteur, she is on extended tour, telling her story to appreciative audiences at literary series, libraries, bookstores, and senior communities all over the country.

Speaking Topics

  • The Receptionist: My Life at The New Yorker
  • Vanished Worlds: New York in the Mad Men Era
  • What [New Yorker] Writers Talk About When They Talk About Writing
  • Evocations of the Jazz Age: The Memoirs of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Edmund Wilson


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