Gopnik, Adam 1956-
Gopnik, Adam 1956-
Born August 24, 1956, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Irwin (a dean of students) and Myrna (a professor of linguistics) Gopnik; married Martha Rebecca Parker (a filmmaker), August 15, 1981; children: Luke, Olivia. Education: McGill University, B.A., 1980; Institute of Fine Arts (New York, NY), M.A., 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Songwriting, baseball, hockey.
Home—New York, NY. Office—The New Yorker, 20 W. 43rd St., 17th fl., New York, NY 10036-7400.
Art historian and critic, editor, and author. Gentleman's Quarterly magazine, New York, NY, 1983-85, began as part-time fashion copy editor, became fiction editor; Alfred A. Knopf (publishing house), New York, NY, editor, 1985-87; New Yorker, New York, NY, staff writer, art critic, and editor, 1987-92, coeditor (with Louis Menand) of back-of-book section, 1992-95, correspondent in Paris, 1995-2000; writer and editor, 1986—; cocurator of "High and Low" exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, 1990.
Moyse traveling fellow, 1980; National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism, three times; George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting; National Magazine Award, American Society of Magazine Editors and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, for his columns in the New Yorker.
Voila CarAme, with drawings by Jack Huberman and lettering by Carman Tagle, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.
(Editor, with Kirk Varnedoe) Modern Art and Popular Culture: Readings in High and Low, Abrams/Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Jane Livingston) Evidence, 1944-1994: Richard Avedon, edited by Mary Shanahan, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Paris to the Moon (essays), Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Steven A. Nash) Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Peter Turnley) Parisians (photographs by Peter Turnley), Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor) Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Library of America (New York, NY), 2004.
The King in the Window (children's book), Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2005.
Through the Children's Gate (essays), Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Adam Gopnik possesses "the quintessential New Yorker sensibility," in the opinion of Saturday Night magazine contributor Charles Oberdorf. That opinion is shared by the New Yorker's former editor, Tina Brown, as well as other colleagues at the publication. A frequent contributor of articles since the mid-1980s, Gopnik became the magazine's art critic under the editorship of Robert Gottlieb. With the advent of Brown, an Englishwoman who came over from Vanity Fair in 1992 amid much controversy and publicity, he was one of the relatively few staffers to survive the editorial transition. Gopnik had been reading the New Yorker, and apparently emulating its style, since age seven, when, he recalled for Oberdorf, he first encountered James Thurber's The Thurber Carnival. Even his marriage was affected, for the better, by the nurturing presence of the New Yorker: when he first dated his future wife Martha Rebecca Parker, he was encouraged to find her reading that magazine as she awaited him.
The son of two academicians who moved their family from Philadelphia to Montreal in 1967—they had become infatuated with the city while attending Expo '67—Gopnik grew up with five siblings, four of whom went on to earn doctorates in one field or another. He himself graduated from high school at age fourteen—a move, he told Oberdorf in Saturday Night, he would not recommend for his own children. Gopnik then went to McGill University, his parents' place of employment, where all his siblings also did their undergraduate work.
An aficionado of fifteenth-century Italian art, Gopnik enrolled at New York's Institute of Fine Arts for a master's degree in that field, but did not complete his doctoral studies. What got in his way was a part-time summer job in Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ) magazine's fashion copy department, where one of his primary jobs was to concoct two-word captions for the pictured garments. "I think my best was ‘Chiaroscuro Chic,’" he told Oberdorf in Saturday Night. Through a fluke, he survived an editorial turnover that sank almost the entire office: "The magazine's entire staff had been fired the previous Friday, but because I was only working Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I hadn't heard. ‘Art’ Cooper ‘the new editor’ must have thought I'd been kept on for some special reason, so he made me fiction editor."
GQ served Gopnik as a stepping stone to an editorial post at Alfred A. Knopf publishers, which in turn brought him into informal contact with New Yorker editors. Gopnik had been sending short pieces to that magazine for years, and had received encouraging praise, but no sales; now, though, the editors—Gopnik's lunch companions—solicited material. What he had on hand was an article comparing baseball to Renaissance art, titled "Quattrocento Baseball"; he had originally written it as a wedding gift for a sister, but it also turned out to be just the kind of thing New Yorker baseball expert Roger Angell, and Angell's colleagues, loved.
When Gottlieb became chief editor of the magazine in 1987, he hired Gopnik away from Knopf—a move that was, in the opinion of another New Yorker editor, Chip McGrath (as reported in Saturday Night), "probably the only non-controversial aspect of [Gottlieb's] coming." From that point, Gopnik appeared in "The Talk of the Town" almost weekly on an anonymous basis; his art reviews, with byline, were carried every six or eight weeks.
As an editor, Gopnik was responsible for honing and trimming, among other things, the jazz columns of Whitney Balliett, who has called Gopnik "a good editor. … Very bright. Sharp. He spots the weaknesses," and who has also expressed admiration for Gopnik's seemingly complete knowledge of the New Yorker's back-stock, according to Oberdorf in Saturday Night. When Brown took over the editorship in 1992, Gopnik's byline became the one found most often per issue. Brown gave this rationale to Oberdorf: "I think he's an incandescent talent … incisive, surprising, with a definite point of view." Gaining elbow-room for longer articles, Gopnik received attention for a piece on John James Audubon (the first in an ongoing series on great American artists), an obituary for physicist Richard Feynman, and a "splendid"—using Oberdorf's word—profile of comedian Steve Martin, among other works.
In 1990, Gopnik joined with Museum of Modern Art painting and sculpture director Kirk Varnedoe, a friend, to curate an exhibit called "High and Low," which would draw comparisons between fine art and com- mercial art in the twentieth century, showing how each influenced the other. The show, which was based partly on Gopnik's graduate work, received mixed reviews, and in particular a negative assessment from the New York Times. It was popular with audiences, however, and drew positive notices from reviewers in Chicago and Los Angeles. According to Wilson Library Bulletin contributor Jean Martin, the show was undone by an absence of surprising insights, and the high-art items overshadowed the low. The book based on the exhibit catalogue was much more successful than the exhibit itself, in Martin's view. It contained nine "provocative" essays by art historians, according to Martin. There was too much "hype" in the prose, Genevieve Stuttaford, writing for Publishers Weeklym commented, but went on to call the volume "visually riveting" and asserted that it "entertains as it informs." For Library Journal reviewer Mary Molinaro, it was "beautifully produced. … A treasure for scholars of both modern art and popular culture."
In 1995, the New Yorker offered Gopnik the opportunity to serve as the publication's Paris correspondent. Gopnik had wanted to live in the French capital since his childhood; now the father of a very young child himself, he realized he was at the perfect moment to do so, before his son reached school age. So Gopnik and his family relocated, and he began writing a series of personal essays reflecting on daily life in Paris, which were published regularly in the New Yorker. In these pieces, he compared the experience of becoming a parent to that of learning to live in a foreign culture, as both require new routines, new languages, and new guidelines. His focus, throughout his five-year stay in Paris, was on the details of everyday life there; but through those details, he also illuminated larger issues such as the changing status of French culture and that country's obsession with paperwork. As Gopnik told Thomas Jackson in a Publishers Weekly interview, the essays show how the narrator "is completely bedazzled by French commonplace civilization, and then becomes absolutely exasperated by French official culture. And then at the end he realizes that the two things are inseparable—that the reason French commonplace civilization is so beautiful is that it exists in the shadow of French official culture…. There's a lesson of life there: you take things whole."
Gopnik's essays on his experiences in France were later collected as Paris to the Moon. Some reviewers of the book found fault with Gopnik's focus on the small details of life. A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that his "‘macro in the micro’ style sometimes seems a convenient excuse to write about himself," and Salon contributor Chris Lehmann criticized the author's "disconcertingly tiny worldview" and his immersion in the "mundane." But the Publishers Weekly commentator went on to say that, when "elegantly woven together with the larger issues facing France, those personal observations beautifully convey a vision of Paris and its prideful, abstract-thinking, endlessly fascinating inhabitants."
New York Times contributor Alain de Botton identified Gopnik's attention to seemingly trivial subjects as his particular genius: "The distinctive brilliance of Gopnik's essays lies in his ability to pick up a subject one would never have imagined it possible to think deeply about and then cover it in thoughts, making connections with literature, sociology and philosophy—all treated in a highly readable way…. He is truly able to see the whole world in a grain of sand." De Botton concluded that although Paris to the Moon is, on the surface, about France, by the end of the book readers have learned "about differences among societies, and so too about our own particularities." Washington Monthly contributor Alexandra Starr maintained that Paris to the Moon "provides ample ammunition for the argument that Gopnik is one of the finest bellelettrists working today," one whose "work can prove as compelling and memorable as Paris itself."
Gopnik's time in Paris has continued to infuse his work. Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, which Gopnik edited, is a collection of essays and travel narratives by an assortment of writers through the centuries. The work includes excerpts from the writing of politicians and performers, fans of fashion and culinary delights, and of course those of professional writers. Gopnik succeeds in capturing Paris through the eyes of a historic array of individuals, from Benjamin Franklin, Abigail Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and e.e. cummings, to Diana Vreeland and P.T. Barnum. Janet Maslin, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, remarked: "The book's sparkle should be ascribed as much to its editor, Adam Gopnik, as to the voices that he collects. Mr. Gopnik has assembled a vibrant cross-section of experience from high-profile tourists, chroniclers and expatriates." In a review for International Travel News, Chris Springer opined that "judicious selection turns what could have been a cacophony of voices into a harmonious ensemble."
Paris inspired Gopnik's work in other ways. In 1997, while still a resident, he visited the children's room in the American Library in Paris, and dreamed of one day adding a title to its shelves. The result was The King in the Window, Gopnik's first attempt at writing for younger readers. The novel tells the story of Oliver Parker, an eleven year old American boy who is living in Paris with his busy journalist father. Bored, and feeling neglected, Oliver is astonished when he discovers that he is the King of the Windows, destined to lead the window wraiths in their court at Versailles. Gopnik's story weaves fantasy and French history in a adventure in which Oliver must battle the evil Master of the Windows. Barbara Hoffert, in a review for the Library Journal, called Gopnik's book "an entertaining, intricately plotted adventure story whose pages just keep turning." Writing for Booklist, Ilene Cooper found the twists of the story a bit confusing, but noted that "Gopnik writes beautifully, especially when he is describing Paris and his characters." Elizabeth Hand, in a review for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, extolled the book's details, calling it "children's literature of the highest order, which means literature of the highest order."
Through the Children's Gate gathers a series of essays that Gopnik wrote concerning his family's return to New York after five years spent living in Paris. They address daily life in New York City, raising children, and other concerns, all with an undercurrent of serious self-analysis and regard for human behavior. He also takes note of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, noting that much of New York remained the same in the wake of the tragedy, despite everything that changed. In a review for Booklist, Brad Hooper wrote that Gopnik's essays are "deeply thought out and well reasoned, and arise from … an immaculate writerly talent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gopnik, Adam, Paris to the Moon, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Gopnik, Adam, Through the Children's Gate, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Booklist, September 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Paris to the Moon, p. 206; October 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The King in the Window, p. 58; September 15, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of Through the Children's Gate, p. 20.
International Travel News, October, 2004, Chris Springer, review of Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, p. 95.
Library Journal, February 1, 1991, Mary Molinaro, review of High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, p. 78; September 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Paris to the Moon, p. 206; September 1, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, "Mirror World," p. 44; September 15, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, review of The King in the Window, p. 55.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January, 2006, Elizabeth Hand, review of The King in the Window, p. 38.
New York Times, October 22, 2000, Alain de Botton, review of Paris to the Moon.
New York Times Book Review, April 15, 2004, Janet Maslin, "Books of the Times: Yep, When Americans Die, They Still Go to Paris."
Publishers Weekly, November 2, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of High and Low, p. 60; April 18, 1994, Thomas Jackson, interview with Adam Gopnik, p. 105; July 31, 2000, review of Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, p. 87; September 25, 2000, review of Paris to the Moon, p. 104.
Saturday Night, February, 1994, Charles Oberdorf, pp. 18-20, 53-54.
Washington Monthly, October, 2000, Alexandra Starr, review of Paris to the Moon, p. 60.
Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1991, Jean Martin, review of High and Low, p. 135.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (April 7, 2007), Chris Lehmann, "Paris When It Fizzles."