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He Loved New York

Long regarded by critics, fans, and various of his colleagues at the New Yorker as America's finest literary journalist, 85-year-old Joseph Mitchell had not, until recently, published a word since 1965, and people wondered what he was doing in his small cubicle at the New Yorker's offices, where he has regularly appeared for over half a century. The answer, in part, is that Mitchell was collecting and editing old work and writing new work for his latest book Up in the Old Hotel, a 718-page collection of his best writing that includes four long out-of-print books: McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould's Secret.

Born and raised in the small town of Fairmont, North Carolina, Mitchell attended the University of North Carolina for four years but did not graduate. In 1929 (at age 21) he arrived in New York seeking a job in journalism. He found work at several newspapers—first at the New York World and in later years at the Herald Tribune and the World Telegram—as a night-beat reporter, a job that inspired in him a lifelong fascination for the raffish side of urban life. During his years as a newspaper reporter (from 1929 to 1938, the year he joined the staff of the New Yorker), Mitchell was happiest interviewing and writing about "unusual" characters—preachers and minor...

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