The New Yorker

ENGL 499 (Undergraduate) and 624 (Graduate): The New Yorker

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

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Course Description


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. There will be two short papers, two seminar reports, and an end-of-term paper with annotated bibliography.

New Yorker Senior Seminar Syllabus

Schedule of Assignments

  • Updated Assignment Sheet for The New Yorker 9.22.19
  • Up for Thursday, 26 September: Loan’s report on Huruki Murakimi; Loan will then lead us in a discussion of Murakami’s story “The Wind Cave.”  After her report we will discuss Garth Greenwell’s “Harbour” from the 16 February issue.
  • Coming up for Week 7 (1, 3 October): On Tuesday is Cameron’s Report on the Social and Political Outlook of The New Yorker, to be followed by Warren’s Profile of Carver and then Warren’s leading our discussion of Carver’s “Errand.”  On Thursday we will discuss Joy Williams’ “The Fellow” from the 30 September issue.  Jennifer and I are discussing her revised topic, and we may have her report on Thursday as well. Your 3-5-page paper is due on Thursday.

Coming Up for Week 8 (8, 10 October): At the beginning of the week we look at the  work of two poets who have published poems in The New Yorker: Sylvia Plath and Terrance Hayes.  Becca will be giving her Profile of Plath on Tuesday and leading our discussion of two Plath poems: “Tulips” and “Letter in November.”  Jennifer will follow with her Profile of Terrance Hayes and will also lead us in discussion of Hayes’ “Ars Poetica with Bacon.”  If we need to carry Jennifer’s discussion of the Hayes’ poem over into Thursday we will.  On Thursday, Mary Alice will give her Talk presentation on New Yorker Humor, after which we will discuss Rion Amilcar Scott’s “Shape-Ups at Delilah’s” in the current issue (October 7, 2019).  Below is our schedule followed by links that will take you to the poems by Plath and Hayes.
Week 8             (8, 10 October)
Week of Poetry and Humor
Tuesday:  Rebecca Lee (Profile of Plath): Sylvia Plath: “Tulips” and “Letter in November; and Jennifer Lee (Profile of Hayes): Terrance Hayes: “Ars Poetica with Bacon.” See below for links to these three poems.
Thursday: Mary Alice Patsalosavvis (Talk: New Yorker Humor);
Fiction from October 7, 2019 (current) issue: Rion Amilcar Scott: “Shape-Ups at Delilah’s

Week 9              (15, 17 October)
Tuesday:            Larry Mills (Profile of Keillor): “We Are Still Married” (May 6, 1984) by Garrison Keillor; fiction from October 14 issue: Joyce Carol Oates’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
Thursday:          Olivia Hudson (Profile of Lahiri): “The Third and Final Continent” (June 21, 1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri; Will Arthur (Profile of Salinger): “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (January 31, 1948) by J.D. Salinger

Week 10            (22, 24 October)
Tuesday:           Andi Malisheski (Profile of Le Guin): “Horse Camp” (August 25, 1986) by Ursula Le Guin; Cara Long (Talk): Tina Brown and the Tina Brown Era (1992-1997)
Thursday:         Daniel Chow (Profile on Saunders): “The End of Firpo in the World” (May 18, 1998) by George Saunders; Loan Nguyen (Talk): The Fiction Editor(s); fiction from October 21 issue: David Means’ story “Are You Experienced?” (We may put discussion of this off until next week.)

Week 11            (29, 31 October)
Tuesday:            Marisa Dew (Profile of Márquez): “Maria dos Prazeres” (March 22, 1993) by Gabriel García Márquez; Will Arthur (Talk): The  Whites: E.B. and Katharine; please also have the David Means story, “Are You Experienced” from the October 21 issue read in case we have time after the presentations to discuss it. If we don’t we will discuss it with the Tessa Hadley story from the October 28 issue after Olivia’s presentation on Thursday.

Thursday:          Olivia Hudson (Talk): The New Yorker and Non-American Authors; fiction from October 28 issue: Tessa Hadley’s “The Bunty Club”

Week 12            (5, 7 November)
Tuesday:            Rebecca Lee (Talk): The Profile Section; read and discuss fiction from the 4 November issue: “God’s Caravan” by Tiphanie Yanique

Thursday:          Mary Alice Patsalosavvis (Profile of Allen): “The Kugelmass Episode” (May 2, 1977) by Woody Allen; Larry Mills (Talk): Thurber’s New Yorker Drawings

3-5-page paper growing out of Talk report due 7 November (See IV B on syllabus). Focus on this part of the assignment description: “Your paper will give you a chance to crystallize your ideas and perhaps elaborate on things you were not able to present in class. Because this paper will call on you to compress large amounts of information on a broad topic from a variety of sources, your paper will need to contain a claim that narrows the broad topic and makes it manageable. Organize your paper around your narrowed claim, and make certain that each paragraph in the body of the paper is clearly related to your claim or thesis. Document your paper, using footnotese [in this case you will be using in-text documentation and a Works Cited page—MLA style] and a bibliography [the “bibliography” will be a Works Cited page] (MLA style).”  As I read through your paper I will be looking mainly at how well you narrow your claim about your “Talk” subject—and how you clearly relate your support for that claim in each part of the paper. We will discuss this in class on Tuesday, especially the endnotes and Works Cited components.

Week 13 (12, 14 November)
(1) Our Schedule:
Tuesday:            Joanna Patzig (Profile of Cheever): “The Enormous Radio” (May 17, 1947) by John Cheever; Marisa Dew (Talk): The David Remnick Era

Thursday: Cameron Washington (Profile of Packer): “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” (June 19, 2000) by ZZ Packer; Joseph O’Neill’s “The Flier” from November 11th issue

(2) Emailing your “Talk” Powerpoint: The Powerpoints have all been so good–so informative and interesting–I would like to upload all of them to our course website (  Here is the process that will make it easiest for me to do this:

A. Export your PowerPoint presentation as a PDF (on most versions you just go to File –> Export —> Export as PDF) 

B. Email the file to as an attachment. 

C.  Put in the subject line of your email, first, your name and, second, the title of your Talk Powerpoint presentation.

Week 14            (19, 21 November)
Tuesday:            Warren Elliott (Talk): The New Yorker and Film; pre-Profile of Alice Adams: Alice Adams and Max Steele

Thursday:      Cara Long (Profile of Adams): “To See You Again” (March 16, 1981) by Alice Adams; You can find a pdf copy of “To See You Again” at this address:
Link to “To See You Again” ;Reading and discussion of Weike Wang’s “the Trip” from the 18 November issue. [ NOTE: As we discussed this assignment is no longer due.  Instead your final papers are to include an annotated Works Cited page. Thus you are doing the “Bibliographies with Prefatory Note” assignment in the form of the annotated listings of the works contained in your final paper.  This Works Cited page is not due until you turn in your final paper.]

Week 15            (26, 28 November): FALL BREAK

Week 16            (3, 5 December) Last Week of Class

Tuesday:            Jennifer’s Talk presentation on The New Yorker and African-American Authors; and discussion of John Edgar Wideman’s story “Arizona” from the 25 November issue.

Thursday:  Seminar Synthesis
Agenda for Last New Yorker Class Fall 2019 II



Talk Topics: Presentations