Renata Adler, Queen Of The Culture Wars

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Legendary journalist and critic Renata Adler on American culture now. She’s not a happy camper.

(L-R) Renata Adler and Joan Didion in an archival photograph from May 17, 1978. (Flickr / Creative Commons)
(L-R) Renata Adler and Joan Didion in an archival photograph from May 17, 1978. (Flickr / Creative Commons)

Journalist and critic Renata Adler came out of the generation that came of age between World War II and the boomers. Not in the war. Not of the sixties. But always watching. And writing, in Renata Adler’s case, with a fierce frankness that has earned her deep admirers and wary targets. She covered Selma, the Vietnam War. Watched Watergate. Famously torched film critic Pauline Kael and publications where she had written – the New Yorker, the New York Times. She’s tough, clear-eyed, impolite if need be about where American culture’s gone and going. This hour, On Point, we talk with Renata Adler.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Renata Adler, journalist, critic and novelist. Author of "After the Tall Timber," "Canaries in the Mineshaft" and "Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker," among others.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Atlantic: Renata Adler: Troll or Treasure? — "To those in the business, in her business, Adler is known mainly for two whopping negatives. The first was her 8,000-word forensic obliteration of the film critic (and her New Yorker colleague) Pauline Kael in The New York Review of Books in 1980. The article is like a midnight revenge attack from inside Kael’s authorial conscience—her every tic, solecism, and inauthenticity itemized in flaming letters on the scroll of judgment. The second was Adler’s 1999 memoir,Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, about the transition from the era of editor William Shawn (whom she loved, in her way) to the era of editor Tina Brown (whom she loved rather less)—about civilizational collapse, basically."

New York Times: ‘After the Tall Timber,’ Renata Adler’s Collected Nonfiction -- "Every interesting and venerable family must have its black sheep. That Ms. Adler has become a notable one in the histories of both The New Yorker and The New York Times is deeply admirable in a gonzo sort of way. As an intellectual desperado, she  has a wind-chapped élan.

New Republic: Millennials, Meet Renata Adler -- "Adler’s shunning was industry-political. It was personal. And her missteps truly aren’t relevant anymore. Adler meant something different to people thirty years ago, but most of her critics from the ’80s and ’90s have moved on. Many of her subjects are dead. In the last decade, readers and publications have forgiven journalists for worse transgressions—Jonah Lehrer’s relative redemption comes immediately to mind—and careers have been buried over less."

Read A Piece Of Reportage Included in "After the Tall Timber" By Renata Adler

This program aired on September 29, 2015.


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