After 38 years at The Times, Michiko Kakutani has decided to step down as chief book critic. Parul Sehgal has been named the new book critic.
Pamela Paul, Editor of the NY Times Book Review and Editorial Director of the Book Review Radhika Jones wrote the following note online:
“The changing of the guard among critics at The New York Times is always a momentous occasion, but in the world of letters, it is hard to imagine a more seismic change than this one: After 38 years at The Times, Michiko Kakutani has decided to step down as chief book critic. It is with profound gratitude for her tremendous service to readers of The Times and readers of books everywhere that we take a moment to recognize her remarkable contributions over the past four decades.”
Parul, a senior editor and columnist at The New York Times Book Review, came to The Times in 2012. Her writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Bookforum, The New Yorker and Slate, among other publications. In 2010 she was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle, and her TED talk on literature and envy has been viewed more than two million times. Her nonfiction interests range from science and technology to philosophy and religion, and her column, “Roving Eye,” is focused on international literature. Her recent work includes a profile of Mary Gaitskill for The New York Times Magazine, reviews of Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen” and Arundhati Roy’s “Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” and columns and essays on Leonora Carrington, Daphne du Maurier and Muriel Spark.
Parul grew up in Virginia, New Delhi, Manila, Montreal and Budapest. She studied at McGill University and received an MFA from Columbia University, where she has taught writing workshops and a master class on criticism. In an interview with Poets and Writers earlier this year, she described her early life as a reader: “My mother had a marvelous, idiosyncratic library — lots of André Gide, Jean Genet, and Oscar Wilde, lots of philosophy, and lots of Jackie Collins. But she was terribly strict, and the library was off-limits to us. Naturally my sister and I became the most frantic little book thieves; I must have spent the first decade of my life with a novel — and usually something massively inappropriate like Judy Blume’s ‘Wifey’ or Gore Vidal’s ‘Myra Breckinridge’ — stuffed in the waistband of my pants.” Of criticism, she says simply, “I just got addicted to the form, its constraints and possibilities.”
The NY Times says it will continue its daily books coverage and plans to expand its books coverage.
Michiko Kakutani began her career at The New York Times in 1979 as a reporter covering cultural news, writing on subjects ranging from Ingmar Bergman to Katharine Hepburn to the Broadway debate over the building of the Portman Hotel. In January 1983, she became a book critic for The Times, and that year she reviewed works by V.S. Naipaul, Richard Yates, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, William Trevor and Renata Adler, as well as biographies of Churchill, Disraeli and Vita Sackville-West. She went on to cover the major fiction and nonfiction of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, books by established writers and new voices alike: Thomas Pynchon, William S. Burroughs, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, J.M. Coetzee, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, David McCullough, Joan Didion, J.K. Rowling. She weighed in on White House memoirs, often under tight deadlines — from “The Haldeman Diaries” to Bill Clinton’s “My Life” — and shared her passion for the Rolling Stones in a review of Keith Richard’s autobiography. In essays she addressed the intersection of culture and the news, writing about James Frey and the blurring of fact and fiction, the cultural impact of 9/11, the literature of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the influence of technology and social media on the ways we read and think. In 1998, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize “for her passionate, intelligent writing on books and contemporary literature.”