Wolcott, James 1952-

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WOLCOTT, James 1952-


Born 1952, in Baltimore, MD; married Laura Jacobs (a writer). Education: Attended Frostburg State College.


Agent—c/o Author mail, 7th Floor, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.


Journalist and writer. Village Voice, New York, NY, writer, 1970s; Vanity Fair, New York, NY, writer, 1980s-92; New Yorker, New York, NY, writer, 1992-96; Vanity Fair, New York, NY, columnist, 1996—.


The Catsitters, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic and London Review of Books.


Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, Miramax Books, 2004.


James Wolcott is a journalist and critic who has been writing for New York publications since the 1970s. In a New York article, Marion Maneker wrote, "Read Wolcott—and just about everyone who reads and writes in New York reads him—and you develop a mental image. His columns are debonair and worldly, etched with an economy of expression and employing startling juxtapositions.…He carries his erudition lightly but swings it for maximum impact." She continued, "It's easy to imagine Wolcott as a character in a Noël Coward play, standing in a drawing room dressed for dinner, casually belittling someone's talent as he absentmindedly lights a cigarette. Wolcott's criticism—the tone-setting and the delivery of blows—is all done in the adjectives: succinct but biting summations that leave no room for consolation."

Wolcott grew up in Baltimore and attended college in western Maryland. While working on the student newspaper there, he wrote an article about the appearance of authors Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal on the Dick Cavett Show. He sent a copy of the article to Mailer, who replied by saying he would supply a reference if Wolcott were ever to need one. Wolcott immediately dropped out of school and moved to New York. There he began his career by working at the Village Voice, writing about everything from performances at Lincoln Center to performances by the Ramones and the Talking Heads. He moved on to write for Vanity Fair and then accepted an offer from the New Yorker. After remaining there for four years, he returned to Vanity Fair in 1996.

Wolcott's first novel, The Catsitters is about a single man who lives with his cat and is unlucky at love. Protagonist Johnny Downs, an actor by night and bartender by day, discovers that the girlfriend who was supposed to care for his cat Slinky while he was away, did not, but she did take up with another guy, which is why Johnny is alone again. "Not only does Johnny's narrative voice sparkle with a dry, almost deadpan wit," wrote Michael Paulson for BookPage online, "but this intermittently employed actor proves a genuinely likable guy: funny, sincere, a cat lover—someone we can root for." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Wolcott's premise shows satiric possibility, and his insights into the world of struggling actors are dead-on."

Johnny receives advice by telephone from friend Darlene Ryder in Georgia, who sets out to reinvent him as marriage material. Darlene offers advice, keeps informed of his love life, and even arranges cat care. Johnny dates several women, has a failed romance, and deals with his grandmother's illness and his cat's death. "Johnny doesn't know what he wants, but he's too inert to get into much trouble," wrote Laura Miller in the New York Times Book Review. "He never risks making a fool of himself. You have to respect a notoriously withering critic for stepping into the ring and offering up his own work to what could well be the same sort of harsh treatment he's dished out to others. That takes daring. It's too bad Wolcott's hero doesn't have some of it."

Janet Maslin of the New York Times found Wolcott to be "bafflingly maladroit in ways that would never pass his own critical muster. With that said, there are certainly worse books about lonely guys." "The story is often laugh-aloud funny," noted Booklist reviewer John Green, "and the ending will give hope to the dumped, male or female." Library Journal's Margaret Hanes wrote that The Catsitters "has so many hilarious twists and turns that it keeps even the most jaded romance reader turning the pages."



Booklist, June 1, 2001, John Green, review of The Catsitters, p. 1851.

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Margaret Hanes, review of The Catsitters, p. 166.

Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2001, Gina Piccalo, "Critic Puts Down Sword and Picks Up Pen," review of The Catsitters, p. E2.

New York, June 11, 2001, Marion Maneker, "The King James Version," pp. 42, 44-45.

New York Times, June 14, 2001, Martin Arnold, "Fair Game: A Critic's Book," review of The Catsitters, p. B3; June 28, 2001, Janet Maslin, "Books of the Times: Men Who Are Out of It: Physically, Mentally, Socially" (includes a review of The Catsitters), p. B9.

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2001, Laura Miller, "Heavy Petting," review of The Catsitters, p. 5.

Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1998, John F. Baker, "The Cat Seat," review of The Catsitters, p. 20; May 7, 2001, review of The Catsitters, p. 219.

Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2001, Merle Rubin, "Bookshelf: Dating Hazards, Pentagon Wars, Baffling Bijoux," p. A12.

Washington Post Book World, June 17, 2001, "Cries and Whiskers," review of The Catsitters, p. T08.


BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (January 13, 2002), Michael Paulson, review of The Catsitters.

HarperCollins,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (January 13, 2002), "James Wolcott" (interview).*