English-speaking world's 'most powerful book critic' stepping down to write about Donald Trump

Many authors were terrified of what she would say of their work

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Thursday 27 July 2017 21:56 BST
Kakutani has held the job of chief book critic for 38 years
Kakutani has held the job of chief book critic for 38 years (New York Times )

A woman described as the most influential book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down because she wants to instead write about politics and culture under the administration of Donald Trump.

After 38 years at the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani has decided to step down as the newspaper’s chief book critic.

Ms Kakutani began her career at the paper in 1979 as a reporter covering cultural news. Vanity Fair - which broke the news of her stepping down - said she was “by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world”.

But Ms Kakutani has made clear she has no plans to stop writing. Rather, she wants to write more about culture and politics under the presidency of Donald Trump.

“My gratitude & thanks to the NYT,” she said on Twitter. “Moving on to focus on longer pieces about politics & culture, though I will always love & write about books.”

The critic was apparently feared by many authors who believed a review Ms Kakutani could make or break their reputation. Among those writers she helped to bring to national and international attention, were Brett Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, George Saunders and Zadie Smith - the latter whom Ms Kakutani described as a “preternaturally gifted new writer”.

Yet she was not afraid to criticise some of the literary world’s biggest names, among them Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, who were both infuriated by her.

“The changing of the guard among critics at the New York Times is always a momentous occasion, but in the world of letters, it is hard to imagine a more seismic change than this one,” the newspaper said in a press release.

Ms Sehgal is joining the paper's team as a critic (New York Times )
Ms Sehgal is joining the paper's team as a critic (New York Times ) (New York Times)

“After 38 years at the Times, Michiko Kakutani has decided to step down as chief book critic. It is with profound gratitude for her tremendous service to readers of the Times and readers of books everywhere that we take a moment to recognise her remarkable contributions over the past four decades.”

Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote in a memo to staff: “No one has played a larger role in guiding readers through the country's literary life over the past four decades than Michi.”

Meanwhile, the paper also announced that Parul Sehgal, a senior editor and columnist, is joining as a book critic. “We are thrilled to welcome Parul as a new voice on fiction and nonfiction in our daily report, joining our superb team of critics,” the paper said.

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