Joseph Mitchell

Facts about Joseph Mitchell

Joseph Mitchell died at 87 years old
Born: July 27, 1908
Died: May 24, 1996 (cancer)
Best known as: The author of "Joe Gould's Secret"

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Joseph Mitchell Biography

Joseph Mitchell was a writer on the staff of The New Yorker magazine for nearly 60 years, from 1938 until his death in 1996.

He specialized in plainspoken essays about oystermen, gypsies, bartenders and other colorful New York characters. At his death, The New York Times called Mitchell a “chronicler of the unsung and the unconventional.”

Many years later it was revealed that Mitchell often combined or reworded quotes, changed scenes and even made up entire characters, all in service of “the truth.”

Mitchell’s best-known subject was Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village derelict who claimed to be writing a magnum opus titled “An Oral History of Our Times.”

Mitchell first profiled Gould in the 1942 essay “Professor Sea Gull”; in 1964 he wrote a follow-up piece, “Joe Gould’s Secret,” revealing that Gould’s book had been a sham.

After completing “Joe Gould’s Secret,” Mitchell suffered a legendary case of writer’s block: he continued to go to his New Yorker office until his death, but never completed another article for the magazine.

Collections of Mitchell’s essays include McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (1943), The Bottom of the Harbor (1960) and Up In the Old Hotel, a 1992 retrospective which renewed interest in Mitchell’s work.


Extra credit

Actor Stanley Tucci played Joseph Mitchell in the 2000 movie Joe Gould’s Secret, with actor Ian Holm as Gould.


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