Living on the Fringe

PariaMountains

It’s the birthday of Joseph Mitchell (books by this author), born in Fairmont, North Carolina (1908). He was a writer for The New Yorker magazine for many years. His stories focused on people living on the fringe in New York City. They featured gypsies, alcoholics, the homeless, fishmongers, and a band of Mohawk Indians who worked as riveters on skyscrapers and bridges and had no fear of heights. Much of his journalism is included in the book Up in the Old Hotel (1992). While at The New Yorker, Joseph Mitchell interviewed criminals, evangelists, politicians, and celebrities. He said that he was a good interviewer because he had lost the ability to detect insanity. He listened to everyone, even those who were crazy, as if they were sane. He said, “The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves.”

Mitchell published his last book in 1965, Joe Gould’s Secret, about a man who said that he learned the language of seagulls and was now writing the longest book in the world. For the next 30 years, Mitchell kept going to his New Yorker office without publishing another word.

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It’s the birthday of novelist Bharati Mukherjee (books by this author), born in Calcutta, India (1940). She said: “As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls whose pursuit of happiness swept them outside the bounds of social decency. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Emma Bovary, and Anna Karenina lived large in my imagination.”

Mukherjee’s novels include The Tiger’s Daughter (1971), Jasmine (1989), Desirable Daughters (2004), and, most recently, Miss New India (2011).

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