cover image The Receptionist: 
An Education at the New Yorker

The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker

Janet Groth. Algonquin, $21.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-61620-131-9

Revelatory dispatches from 21 years as a receptionist at the New Yorker—1957 to 1978—expose more about Groth’s (Edmund Wilson) own sense of writerly inadequacy in that pre-feminist era than about the famous writers she worked for. Fresh out of the University of Minnesota, armed with a writing prize and an entrée to interview with the New Yorker’s legendary E.B. White, Groth secured a receptionist job on the 18th floor of the midtown Manhattan building—the “writers’ floor”—with every expectation of moving on to fact-checking or reporting within a year or two. While answering their phones and messages, watering their plants, babysitting their kids, and housesitting, Groth secured mentoring relationships (and regular lunches) with numerous writers like John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, and Muriel Spark, whom she delineates in touching tributes, yet the simmering subtext to this deeply reflective, rueful memoir is the question why she did not advance in two decades at the magazine. After losing her virginity to a young dissolute contract artist she calls Evan Simm, who ended up affianced to someone else, Groth plunged into a period of acting out as the promiscuous party girl (“Yep, a dumb blond,” she calls herself) before travel, psychotherapy, and graduate school directed her to a path of her own making. As the magazine weathered tumultuous events of the 1960s and ’70, Groth chronicles the many dazzling personalities whose lives touched, and moved, hers. (June)