Renata Adler

Renata Adler
Born (1938-10-19) October 19, 1938
Milan, Italy
Pen nameBrett Daniels
  • Journalist
  • essayist
  • critic
  • novelist
Notable works
  • Towards A Radical Middle (1970)
  • A Year in the Dark (1970)
  • Speedboat (1976)
  • Pitch Dark (1983)
Notable awards
  • O. Henry Prize
    1978 BrownstoneBest Short Story
  • PEN/Hemingway Award
    1976 SpeedboatBest First Novel

Renata Adler (born October 19, 1938) is an American author, journalist, and film critic. Adler was a staff writer-reporter for The New Yorker, and in 1968–69, she served as chief film critic for The New York Times. She is also a writer of fiction.[1]

Early life

Adler was born in Milan, Italy, to Frederick L. and Erna Adler; she has two older brothers. Her family had fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and later moved to America in 1939.[2]

She grew up in Danbury, Connecticut. After earning her B.A. (summa cum laude) in philosophy and German literature from Bryn Mawr College, where she studied under José Ferrater Mora, Adler studied for an M.A. in comparative literature at Harvard under I. A. Richards and Roman Jakobson. She then pursued her interest in philosophy, linguistics and structuralism at the Sorbonne under the tutelage of Jean Wahl and Claude Lévi-Strauss, and later received a J.D. from Yale Law School, and an honorary doctorate of laws from Georgetown University.



In 1962, Adler became a staff writer-reporter for The New Yorker. In 1968, despite not being involved in the film trade, she surprisingly succeeded Bosley Crowther as film critic for The New York Times and her esoteric, literary reviews were not well received by the film studio distributors. She was not happy with the Times' deadlines and in February 1969, she was replaced by Vincent Canby.[3]

Her film reviews were collected in her book, A Year in the Dark. During her time at the Times she retained her office at The New Yorker and she rejoined the staff there after leaving the Times, and she remained for four decades.[3][4]

Her reporting and essays for The New Yorker on politics, war, and civil rights were reprinted in Toward a Radical Middle. Her introduction to that volume provided an early definition of radical centrism as a political philosophy.[5] Her "Letter from the Palmer House" was included in the collection The Best Magazine Articles of the Seventies.

In 1980, upon the publication of her New Yorker colleague Pauline Kael's collection When the Lights Go Down, she published an 8,000-word review in The New York Review of Books that dismissed the book as "jarringly, piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless",[6] arguing that Kael's post-1960s work contained "nothing certainly of intelligence or sensibility", and faulting her "quirks [and] mannerisms", including Kael's repeated use of the "bullying" imperative and rhetorical question. The piece, which stunned Kael and quickly became infamous in literary circles,[7] was described by Time magazine as "the New York literary Mafia['s] bloodiest case of assault and battery in years."[8]

Adler taught for three years in both the University Professors Honors Program and the Journalism Department of Boston University. She also held Trumbull and Branford Fellowships at Yale, and visiting fellowships at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University.



In 1974, Adler's short story "Brownstone" won first prize in the O. Henry Awards. She has published two novels, Speedboat (1976) and Pitch Dark (1983). In 2010, members of the National Book Critics Circle called for Speedboat to be returned to print, and it was re-published by New York Review Books in 2013, along with Pitch Dark.[9] Both were greeted with new critical acclaim.


Adler's book, Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al., Sharon v. Time (1986), an account of two libel trials and the First Amendment, was also praised: "This book should be under the Christmas tree of every lawyer and journalist", wrote William B. Shannon in The Washington Post. The journalist Edwin M. Yoder wrote, also in The Washington Post, "Reckless Disregard is the best book about American journalism of our time."

Her book Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker (1999) described what she saw as the magazine's decline in the 1980s and 1990s. The New York Times called it an "irritable little book" and criticized Adler for claiming that famed Watergate judge John Sirica was a "corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest figure, with a close connection to Senator Joseph McCarthy and clear ties to organized crime", without offering any proof.[10] Adler rebutted this accusation in a detailed article, "A Court of No Appeal", published in Harper's in August 2000.[11]

In 2001, Adler published Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and the Media, a collection of pieces from The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper's, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, and The New York Review of Books. Some of these, on the National Guard, Biafra, Pauline Kael, soap operas, the impeachment inquiries (of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton), and the press, had received awards.

In 2008, Adler contributed an essay to the Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibition catalog Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power. Her introduction, a memoir of her close friendship and work with the photographer, includes details of her work as editor of Avedon's photo-essay for Rolling Stone magazine, "The Family" (1976).

In 2015, New York Review Classics published a collection of Adler's essays and reporting pieces as After the Tall Timber: Collected Non-Fiction.


In 1968, Adler's essay "Letter from the Palmer House", which appeared in The New Yorker, was included in The Best Magazine Articles of 1967. In 1975, Adler's short story "Brownstone" received first prize in the O. Henry Awards Best Short Stories of 1974. The same story was selected for the O. Henry Collection Best Short Stories of the Seventies.

Adler's novel Speedboat won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, an annual award to recognize a distinguished achievement in debut fiction. In 1987, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1989 she received an honorary doctorate from the Georgetown University School of Law. In 2021, Adler received an honorary doctorate from Oberlin College.[12]

Her "Letter from Selma", originally published in the New Yorker in 1965,[13] was included in the Library of America compendium Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973 (2003),[14] and an essay from her tenure as film critic of The New York Times, on In Cold Blood, is included in the Library of America compendium American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now. In 2004, Adler served as a media fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. In 2005, she became a Branford fellow at Yale University; she had been a Trumbull fellow at Yale from 1967 to 1979.[15]

Personal life

Adler has one son, Stephen, who she adopted as an infant in 1986.[2] As of 2013, she lives in Newtown, Connecticut.[16]



  • Speedboat. New York: Random House. 1976. ISBN 0-394-48876-8.
  • Pitch Dark. New York: Knopf. 1983. ISBN 0-394-50374-0.



  1. ^ Fowler, Ashley I. (2007). "Renata Adler". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Lubow, Arthur (January 16, 2000). "Renata Adler Is Making Enemies Again (Published 2000)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Vincent Canby Gets 'Times' Film Critic Post; Exit Renata". Variety. March 5, 1969. p. 7.
  4. ^ "New Yorker Classics". Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  5. ^ Adler, Renata (1969). Toward a Radical Middle: Fourteen Pieces of Reporting and Criticism. Random House, pp. xiii–xxiv.ISBN 978-0-394-44916-6.
  6. ^ Adler, Renata (August 14, 1980). "The Perils of Pauline". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  7. ^ Davis, Francis (2002). Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael. Cambridge: Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-81230-4.
  8. ^ "Press: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Ouch Ouch)". Time. August 4, 1980. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  9. ^ "NBCC Reads Renata Adler, Renata Adler, and Many Other Novelists We'd Like to See Back in Print". December 30, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2015.
  10. ^ "A Question of Literary Ethics". The New York Times. April 5, 2000.
  11. ^ Renata Adler, "A Court of No Appeal: How One Obscure Sentence Upset The New York Times" Harper's (August 2000), accessed March 22, 2013.
  12. ^ "2021 Commencement Celebrations will be held May 14". Oberlin College. May 7, 2021. Retrieved January 8, 2022.
  13. ^ Adler, Renata (April 10, 1965). "Letter from Selma". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  14. ^ "Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973". Library of America. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  15. ^ Renata Adler NNDB: Retrieved March 21, 2008.
  16. ^ Cooke, Rachel (July 7, 2013). "Renata Adler: 'I've been described as shrill. Isn't that strange?'". The Guardian. Retrieved January 27, 2022.

External links