Joan Acocella is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her most recent book is Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints. She is writing a biography of Mikhail Baryshnikov. (June 2016)


Mixing It Up

Audra McDonald with Brandon Victor Dixon at the piano in Shuffle Along

Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

a musical written and directed by George C. Wolfe, with songs by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, at the Music Box Theatre, New York City, opened on April 28, 2016
In the arts big changes are often wrought not by the person who introduced the new thing but, sadly, by a person who came after, and copied it, and, thanks to greater luck or talent, made of it something that a lot of other people, too, wanted to try, thus …

A Ghost Story

Joseph Brodsky and Mikhail Baryshnikov, New York City, 1985


a theater piece written and directed by Alvis Hermanis
Many emotions are entwined in the theater piece Brodsky/Baryshnikov, which had its premiere at the New Riga Theater in October and will open at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York in March. Its subject is Joseph Brodsky, who was born in Leningrad in 1940 and died in Brooklyn in 1996.

The Elmore Leonard Story

John Travolta, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito in the film version of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty

Four Novels of the 1980s: City Primeval, LaBrava, Glitz, Freaky Deaky

by Elmore Leonard, edited by Gregg Sutter

Four Novels of the 1970s: Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89, The Switch

by Elmore Leonard, edited by Gregg Sutter
Elmore Leonard became famous as a crime novelist, but he didn’t like being grouped with most of the big names in that genre, people such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett or, indeed, any of the noir writers. He disapproved of their melodrama, their pessimism, their psychos and nymphos and fancy writing. He saw in crime no glamour or sexiness but, on the contrary, long hours and sore feet.

The Ecstasy of a Modern Romantic

In her youth Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) more or less created what we now call American modern dance, and she soon became famous for it. She was also a beauty, leaving behind her a trail of glamorous lovers. But by 1927, when she was fifty, all that was over. Duncan was living in a rented studio in Nice. She was barely performing any longer, and years of hard living—above all, heavy drinking—had coarsened her looks. She had no money. She went to parties in order to eat the canapés. Partly, no doubt, to improve her financial situation, she decided to do something that she had talked about for years: write her memoirs.

Pure Gold

Brian Brooks as Saint Stephen, at top, in the recessional from Christopher Williams's The Golden Legend

The Golden Legend

a dance piece by Christopher Williams
The Golden Legend, a compilation of lives of the saints made in the thirteenth century by Jacobus de Voragine, the archbishop of Genoa, is not something that would spring to mind as a likely basis for a work of “downtown” dance. That is not because it is a holy book.

‘Beware of Pity’

In the 1920s and 1930s Stefan Zweig was an immensely popular writer, a man who had to barricade himself in his house in Salzburg in order to avoid the fans lurking around his property in the hope of waylaying him. According to his publisher, he was the most widely translated …

Between Comedy and Horror

The Afterlife

by Donald Antrim
Donald Antrim, as we know from his novels, has a way with openers. Here are the first two sentences of his new book, which is not a novel, but a memoir, entitled The Afterlife: My mother, Louanne Antrim, died on a fine Saturday morning in the month of August, in …

‘A Note of the Miraculous’


by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, published in 1980, was a very big hit. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; it won the PEN/ Faulkner Award. The reviewers loved it and, seemingly, were also grateful to it, for while Housekeeping had all of modernism’s painful knowledge, it showed none of …