New York City
Date of Birth
Place of Birth
New York City
Horace Mann School
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I thought I'd get a better education at a small school.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
"Big Books" with Ben DeMott
20th Century American art and culture
Awards and Prizes
National Book Award Finalist;
International Art Critics' Association Best Show Award
Short Stories of Anton Chekhov
Tips for aspiring writers?
Brace yourself for lifelong rejection.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author:
After starting out at Amherst with a double interest in history of art and practice of art, and a sideline interest in caricature and cartooning, I found myself drawn to writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Shortly before leaving Amherst I decided that I would take up writing as a career. I did not study creative writing at Amherst though, and my studies in the English department were more focused on late 19th and early 20th century novels. My thesis was a comic novel in the style of Anthony Powell.
It never really occurred to me to sign up for an MA in creative writing; I just moved to New York and got a job.
After a brief period of working for various publishing houses, during which time my college novel was published to good (but not great) reviews, I began writing in magazines and literary reviews about contemporary fiction and contemporary art, mostly with Artforum and The Village Voice. After a few more experiments with fiction I realized it was not for me: it was too personal and inward-looking. So I moved on to critical writing and freelance editing. Ultimately, though, I settled into my current vocation as a biographer. My first biography, Fairfield Porter: I Life in Art (Yale, 2000), was a great critical success. I subsequently curated an exhibition of Porter's paintings and writings which toured the United States for several years after, and won a major artworld prize for good curating.
Following the publication of the Porter biography I received a Guggenheim fellowship which enabled me to begin work on Secret Historian, which took the better part of ten years to research and write. During that time I published a number of monographs and exhibition catalogues (as well as a small, humorous cookbook) as a way of paying the bills. The biography was published to widespread acclaim in August of 2010. Since then I have been traveling around the United States discussing the book, mostly at liberal arts colleges and universities. The book has been named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award, a Top 10 Biography of the Year on Amazon, and a Top 10 Book of the Year in the San Francisco Chronicle.