About the Author: Justin Spring '84


Justin Spring

Current Home
New York City

Date of Birth

Place of Birth
New York City

Horace Mann School
Amherst College

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

Research Interests? 
20th Century American art and culture

Awards and Prizes
National Book Award Finalist; 
International Art Critics' Association Best Show Award

Favorite Book
Short Stories of Anton Chekhov

Favorite Author

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.