In February 1925, the inaugural issue of the New Yorker magazine was published. Although it struggled in its early years, the weekly magazine would ultimately become a national magazine famous for the quality and breadth of its writing and cartoons.
The New Yorker was the brainchild of Harold Ross (1892–1951). After World War I (1914–18), Ross began hanging out at New York's Algonquin Hotel with a group of writers and artists that would come to be known as the "Algonquin Round Table." Ross was taken with the wit and sophistication of the group and decided that if he could capture it in a magazine, it would find a readership. Ross, who would edit the magazine for twenty-six years, established the magazine's four basic literary emphases: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and cartoons. The New Yorker went on to excel in all four areas, frequently in the same issue.
The early years of the New Yorker featured regular contributions from writers and artists such as Dorothy Parker (1893–1967), E. B. White (1899–1985), and James Thurber (1894–1961). Their sophisticated work helped to establish the magazine's reputation as a serious literary magazine for intellectual readers, although there were critics who dubbed the magazine "snooty." In 1946, the magazine made journalistic history by devoting an entire issue to Hiroshima by John Hersey (1914–1993). The work was a brutal account of America's nuclear bombing of the Japanese city of the same name during World War II (1939–45).
After Ross died in 1951, William Shawn (1907–1992) took over the editorship of the New Yorker. Under his guidance, the magazine's reputation as "the best magazine that ever was" continued to grow. Writers such as John Cheever (1912–1982), J. D. Salinger (1919–), and John Updike (1932–) published some of their best fiction in the New Yorker's pages. The work of cartoonist Charles Addams (1912–1988) continued to present a bizarre world that would become the basis for The Addams Family TV show and several Addams Family feature films. Continuing the tradition started with the publication of Hiroshima, under Shawn's leadership the magazine would devote issues to groundbreaking works such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1924–1984), Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1907–1964), and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1924–1987). Pauline Kael (1919–2001), among the most famous and controversial American film critics ever, also spent the bulk of her career writing for the New Yorker.
Shawn was forced into retirement in the late 1980s, at which time the magazine's reputation took something of a hit. Since that time, its editorial consistency has not been what it once was. Despite this, in an age of increasing hype and a growing tendency toward the tabloid in the mainstream American press, in the early twenty-first century the New Yorker remained a beacon for readers looking for intelligent and sophisticated writing.
—Robert C. Sickels
For More Information
Corey, Mary F. The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Mid-century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Gill, Brendan. Here at the New Yorker. New York: Random House, 1975.
Kunkel, Thomas. Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker. New York: Random House, 1995.
The New Yorker.http://www.newyorker.com (accessed January 24, 2002).
Yagoda, Ben. About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. New York: Scribner, 2000.