New York Times' feared book critic steps down

NEW YORK • Ms Michiko Kakutani, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The New York Times who rigorously assessed the works of emerging and established authors including Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Toni Morrison and J.K. Rowling, has decided to step down as the publication's chief book critic, the newspaper announced on Thursday.

The 62-year-old's departure quickly rippled through journalism and literary circles. Expressions of admiration and appreciation from writers and readers alike mingled with the occasional sigh of relief from those whose work she had not viewed favourably - a verdict she never shied away from sharing with readers.

"A rave review from Michiko Kakutani has been the equivalent of a badge of honour - it's the ultimate endorsement for a serious writer," said Mr Jonathan Karp, publisher of Simon & Schuster. "She has been greatly respected and greatly feared."

Vanity Fair magazine said Ms Kakutani is the most high-profile employee to have taken a voluntary buyout package as the company funds plans to hire some 100 more reporters.

The New York Times also announced on Thursday that Ms Parul Sehgal, a senior editor and columnist at its Book Review, would join Mr Dwight Garner and Ms Jennifer Senior as one of its book critics.

Ms Kakutani started her career covering cultural news at the newspaper in 1979 and became a book critic in 1983. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1998.

"No one has played a larger role in guiding readers through the country's literary life over the past four decades than Michi," Mr Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, wrote in a note to employees announcing her retirement on Thursday. "And no one, I would venture, knows more about the literature and writing that flowed out of Sept 11."

He added: "No one could be as well-read as Michi."

On Twitter, Ms Kakutani expressed gratitude to the paper and said she intends to "focus on longer pieces about politics and culture".

Over her 38-year career at The New York Times, she offered critical assessments of virtually every major author working during that time, but also broke news.

In 2015, her review of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman was the first to tell readers that the beloved character Atticus Finch, the progressive hero of To Kill A Mockingbird, harboured racist views.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'New York Times' feared book critic steps down'. Print Edition | Subscribe