Although he grew up in a town in North Carolina of 2,699 people, for many years Joseph Mitchell was one of the most important voices in New York journalism. Because of his inability to pass his math courses, he never finished college, and instead of joining the family business -- tobacco growing -- he went to the Big Apple, arriving at the age of 21 the day after the stock market crash of 1929. He worked as a newspaper reporter for a decade, and in 1938 joined the staff of the New Yorker, where he remained until the day he died (although for the last 30 or so years of his life -- he passed away in 1996 -- he didn't publish a word).
As part of a cycle of talks called Autores Secretos (Secret Authors) at el Palacio de Bellas Artes, I will be speaking about Joseph Mitchell on Wednesday, February 25 at 7 pm. While he is a cult figure in the U.S., known among readers who are interested in New York and in journalism, he is unknown in Mexico, even though one of his books, Joe Gould's Secret, was published by Anagrama under the title El secreto de Joe Gould. Sadly, whenever I do journalism workshops here, no one has ever heard of him.
Mitchell was famous for writing about the underbelly of New York -- winos, beggars, a bearded lady, a ticket-taker in a Bowery movie house, a man who rented out racing cockroaches to society parties. Indeed, Joe Gould, the subject of his book, was a homeless man who went from bar to bar in Greenwich Village, claiming to be working on a book called The Oral History of Our Time that would weigh in at over a million words.
Joseph Mitchell once claimed that the most interesting people to interview were "anthropologists, farmers, prostitutes, psychiatrists and the occasional bartender," and that the least interesting were "society women, industrial leaders, distinguished authors, ministers, explorers, movie actors and any actress under the age of 35."
He is probably the author who has been my greatest influence. I will talk about his marvelous work -- and the possible reasons for his silence -- in Spanish.