ENGL 499-901 Undergraduate Senior Seminar: The New Yorker

(If you are looking for information on the graduate version of this course, ENGL 624, click here)

The New Yorker never intended to be a journal of serious social commentary, or to frontally attack the issues of the day. It was purposefully light-hearted and chose to get its message across through caricatures and satires rather than in-depth news reporting. The New Yorker‘s official myth has come to consist of three main parts: “the eccentric editorial leader, a disorganized and unreliable staff, and unexpected success rewarding creative chaos in the absence of an editorial plan.”

The New Yorker became an important part of American popular culture and played a crucial role in developing American comic traditions. The mid-1930s saw the inclusion of American Humor into the Academy as a subject worthy of academic study. It claimed its own right as a discipline, “halfway between folklore and literature.” Editors cultivated contributors who specialized in a single mode; there were authors of verse and fiction, artists to create cartoons and idea drawings, and some contributors who could do both, like James Thurber. Tina Brown, who served for a six-year term as editor in the 1990s, described the old New Yorker as “full of mischief, lots of wit, and covers bursting with life.” The New Yorker was writing for affluent, young, college-educated urbanites who formed a “visible and potent generation of reader-consumers.” In a shift away from traditional folksy, rustic wisdom and humor, the magazine developed a fast-paced, witty, highly cultured and artsy type of humor. This was understandable, since they were recruiting staff members and writers from an exclusive system of networks that included Ivy League universities, elite social circles, and local journalism. (Adapted from xroads.virginia.edu). To read full article go to click here.

Course Description

The New Yorker Undergraduate Senior Seminar at VCU

The New Yorker short story probably “causes more debate, and results in more distemper, than anything else about the magazine,” observes Dale Kramer in Ross and The New Yorker. In this seminar we will read and discuss early New Yorker stories as well as every story that appears in the magazine during the semester. We will attempt to determine if there is such a thing as “a New Yorker story” and if it makes sense to talk about The New Yorker School of Fiction, particularly in light of changes in the magazine after the Harold Ross and William Shawn eras of the 1920s through the 1980s. We will also examine historical details about the magazine, including the editorial principles upon which Ross founded it in 1925 and the degree to which Shawn carried Ross’s vision into the 1980’s.  While we will focus sharply on The New Yorker of Ross and Shawn, the “old” New Yorker, we will at the same time be looking at the “new” New Yorker, the magazine that has evolved since Shawn’s departure in 1987—The New Yorker of editors William Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and now David Remnick.

Click here to view New Yorker presentations from previous students

New Yorker Senior Seminar Syllabus





Deborah Treisman on “Cat Person”