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December 8: William Shawn and The New Yorker

lawrencebush
December 8, 2013
5-1-48-coverWilliam Shawn, who edited the New Yorker for thirty-five years, 1952-87, and turned it into the best-respected cultural magazine in America, died at 85 on this date in 1992. Shawn began his career at the magazine in 1933 (after his wife gained employment there as a fact-checker), and served as an assistant editor during World War II; shortly after the war, he convinced editor Harold Ross to run John Hershey's article about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the entire contents of an issue. After Ross died in December, 1951, Shawn took over the magazine. He was notoriously shy, claustrophobic, and secretive and strong-willed about his work; Shawn "firmly presided over a shift," wrote Eric Pace in the New York Times obituary, "from its original flippancy to a more serious tone, which, he insisted, merely mirrored 'a new awareness' among writers and readers." In 1987, after S.I. Newhouse's publishing empire took over the New Yorker, Shawn was forced out — and more than 150 editors, writers and cartoonists signed a letter of protest. "Better than any other editor of our time, he has been able to measure the distance of our national fall from grace," wrote Brendan Gill. "Falling short of perfection is a process that just never stops." —William Shawn