Singer, Mark 1950–
SINGER, Mark 1950–
Born October 19, 1950, in Tulsa, OK; son of Alexander Simon (a geologist) and Marjorie Singer; married Rhonda Klein (an attorney), May 27, 1973 (divorced, 1996); children: Jeb Lincoln, Reid Teller, Timothy Goodman, Paul Mailhot-Singer. Education: Yale University, B.A. (with honors), 1972. Religion: Jewish.
Writer. New Yorker magazine, New York, NY, staff writer, 1974—.
Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, 1985.
Funny Money, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Mr. Personality, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted as Mr. Personality: Profiles and Talk Pieces from the New Yorker, Mariner Books (Boston, MA), 2005.
Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Somewhere in America: Under the Radar with Chicken Warriors, Left-Wing Patriots, Angry Nudists, and Others, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2004.
Character Studies: Encounters with the Curiously Obsessed, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.
Author of introduction, Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, (commemorative edition), Random House (New York, NY), 1986, Theodore M. Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins, Noonday Press (New York, NY), 1991, and Vincent McHugh, I Am Thinking of My Darling, Yarrow Press (New York, NY), 1991. Also author, with Garrison Keillor, of foreword to A.J. Liebling, The Honest Rainmaker, reprint edition, North Point Press (San Francisco), 1989.
Mark Singer, a native Oklahoman renowned for his witty, offbeat writing in the New Yorker magazine's "Talk of the Town" column, has also received critical acclaim for his nonfiction books. Funny Money is Singer's 1985 account of the rise and collapse of the Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma City. Penn Square was an unassuming institution located in a small shopping mall that nevertheless grew to colossal proportions during the energy boom of the late-1970s and early-1980s. In the extravagance of the times, the bank's chief officers discovered that there was great profit in making liberal and virtually unconsidered oil and gas loans which could then be sold to large national banks such as the Continental Illinois and Chase Manhattan.
In Funny Money Singer chronicles the Oklahoma oil-boom years with, according to New York Times contributor Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "a gift for mimicry and an amusing sense of hyperbole. He speaks the American vernacular. He makes comic poetry of the art of turning liabilities into assets." S.C. Gwynne commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the book's charm lies in the characters it portrays. Penn Square's energy loan officer, Bill "Monkeybrains" Patterson, for example, delights in wearing Mickey Mouse ears or a duck cap to work and getting into food fights in restaurants. Susan Lee wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Mr. Singer does a great job describing the yahooism, generally called Okiesmo, that captured Oklahoma City during the boom years." Lee, while applauding the wit and charm of Funny Money, regretted the author's lack of political analysis, summarizing that "although Mr. Singer has an eye for vulgar excess and an ear for self-serving bluster, he doesn't fit the gossip into a broader context."
Singer's 1989 publication, Mr. Personality, is a collection of reprints of thirty-one profiles written by the author for the New Yorker. The subjects of Singer's pieces are as varied as the people on a Manhattan street. Included are a zipper repairman, the inventors of the automatic "Doggie Washer," five brothers who superintend luxury apartment buildings, a dealer of rare prints, an auto wreck renter, a knife sharpener, two retired television news producers, a court buff, a radio humorist, and the title character, a clarinetist who calls himself "Mr. Personality" and plays on the subway. Publishers Weekly contributor Genevieve Stuttaford, calling the Oklahoma-born Singer "a genuine New Yorker," praised the "delightfully whimsical interviews with fellow townspeople" that Singer conducted for the work. Clarence Petersen, in his Tribune Books review, labelled the pieces "witty and urbane and usually offbeat."
In 1996, Singer published a book that grew out of a New Yorker piece called "The Prisoner and the Politician." It concerned Brett Kimberlin, a convicted drug smuggler serving time at a federal penitentiary in Oklahoma. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Kimberlin had alleged that Republican vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle had purchased marijuana from him in the early 1970s. When Kimberlin attempted to hold a press conference, he was placed in detention and the story was suppressed. Singer was interested in the story not only because he found Kimberlin credible, but because he wondered why Quayle should be held above suspicion. In his article and book, Singer portrayed Kimberlin as an intelligent, disciplined individual. The writer focused on the reaction of prison officials and journalists to Kimberlin's allegations about Quayle. "Based on his own extensive study, Singer concludes … that Kimberlin 'has become a political prisoner,'" wrote a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Singer's article was a finalist for the prestigious National Magazine Award, and it was expanded and published in 1996 as Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin. During the course of his continued research, however, Singer became convinced that Kimberlin, whose credibility he had strongly defended, was in fact lying to him. "Repudiating the conclusions he had drawn in his New Yorker article, Singer turns Citizen K … in part, into a mea culpa in which he frankly admits to having been duped," advised the Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. Yet the book drew mostly favorable reviews. Ben Yagoda, a writer for the New York Times Book Review, "found it remarkable that Singer, whom he praises as a first-rate reporter and a diligent researcher, candidly placed himself in an unfavorable light as he spun his cautionary tale about the dangers inherent in the journalist's relationship to his source," noted a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. Kristin Eliasberg, writing in the Nation, commented: "Part of the fascination of his book lies in watching it all dawn on him [Singer]: the knowledge of his own self-deception, his desire to believe Kimberlin and his growing realization of the extent to which Kimberlin has fooled him."
In his book Somewhere in America: Under the Radar with Chicken Warriors, Left-Wing Patriots, Angry Nudists, and Others, Singer once again provides writings from the New Yorker, this time from his "U.S. Journal" column in the magazine. The various essays cover the author's travels throughout the United States, the people he meets, and the various stories he decides to cover, including cockfighting and several old, unsolved murder cases. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the essays "svelte, unobtrusively perceptive reports" and also "cerebral, covertly provocative vignettes of contemporary America's often sad state." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted: "Singer's travelogue … is a journey definitely worth taking."
Character Studies: Encounters with the Curiously Obsessed presents nine profiles written by Singer that previously appeared in the New Yorker. Referring to the "Curiously Obsessed"in the title, Jeff MacGregor, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that the author "has assembled a diverse list of the fixated and the pixilated; of Nietzschean mommies, (Tom) Mixophants and (Pancho) Villaphiles; of one worldly man so self-absorbed he can't get out of his own head and another who has absorbed so much of the world that he can't get it out of his head fast enough." MacGregor also wrote: "Those among us who honor the tradition of an author writing smart, clean prose about actual human beings must then rejoice in the arrival of Mark Singer's new collection." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "The most worthwhile pieces here are the portraits of less famous people involved in compelling pursuits."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Connery, Thomas B., A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: Representative Writers in an Emerging Genre, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1992.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 185: American Literary Journalists, 1945-1995, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Hollowell, John, Fact and Fiction: The New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1977.
Sims, Norman, editor, The Literary Journalists, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.
Sims, editor, Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990, pp. 82-109.
Sims, editor, Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1995.
Wolfe, Tom, and E.W. Johnson, editors, The New Journalism, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
Zinsser, William, Speaking of Journalism, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Columbia Journalism Review, March-April, 1997, Anthony Marro, review of Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin, p. 56.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of Somewhere in America: Under the Radar with Chicken Warriors, Left-Wing Patriots, Angry Nudists, and Others, p. 384; May 15, 2005, review of Character Studies: Encounters with the Curiously Obsessed, p. 580.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 7, 1985, S.C. Gwynne, review of Funny Money, p. 2; May 27, 1990, p. 10.
Nation, December 2, 1996, Kristin Eliasberg, review of Citizen K, p. 28.
New York Times, May 30, 1985, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Funny Money.
New York Times Book Review, June 23, 1985, Susan Lee, review of Funny Money, p. 6; November 10, 1996, Ben Yagoda, review of Citizen K, p. 10; August 21, 2005, Jeff MacGregor, review of Character Studies, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Mr. Personality, pp. 60, 62; May 10, 2004, review of Somewhere in America, p. 46.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 3, 1990, Clarence Petersen, review of Mr. Pesonality.