One of the most vaunted, and feared, critical voices in American letters is retiring. At least from her current post at the New York Times. The newspaper announced that Michiko Kakutani, the longtime chief book critic for the publication, is leaving her post. While the paper has not named a new chief critic for the books department, Parul Sehgal (formerly a reviews editor at Publishers Weekly and currently a senior editor and columnist at the New York Times Book Review), is joining the paper's team of daily critics.
The shift is one of the latest changes in the books department at the paper, which has been going through a number of staff and organizational changes since Pamela Paul was tapped, last summer, to oversee all books coverage. Paul, in a letter to staff, said of Kakutani's leaving that "it is hard to imagine a more seismic change than this one." She added that Kakutani, who won a Pulitzer in 1998 for her work, has had an immeasurable impact on the paper. "Her tenure at the Times has been among the most storied and influential in our history," Paul wrote, "and we are deeply grateful for the course she has charted, book by book, week by week, through the vast frontier of contemporary literature."
Kakutani started at the Times in 1979 as a culture reporter, and became a book critic in 1983. Going through a long list of the authors Kakutani reviewed, Paul made it clear Kakutani had a hand in offering significant commentary on, or helping to establish, some of the most notable authors of this, and the last, century. The authors she's reviewed include Thomas Pynchon, William S. Burroughs, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, J.M. Coetzee, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen and J.K. Rowling.
Beyond the criticism Kakutani is best known for, Paul noted that she also "addressed the intersection of culture and the news" in various pieces. Paul noted that Pulitzer committee listed a number of essays Kakutani wrote for the Times, including articles on John Updike and Henry Louis Gates.
Sehgal arrived at the Times in 2012 (after stints at NPR and, before that, PW) and has been working for the New York Times Book Review. She won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle in 2010 and has written for, among others, The New Yorker, Slate and The Atlantic. For the Times, among other things, she has been writing the "Roving Eye" column, which has a focus on international literature. Paul said Sehgal's tastes are wide-ranging, running the gamut from "science and technology to philosophy and religion."
With her appointment, Sehgal joins the other daily critics Dwight Garner, Jennifer Senior and Janet Maslin.
NOTE: This article has been updated with additional details since it was originally posted.