To the Editors:
I’ve always enjoyed the bracing critiques published in The New York Review. However facts are facts. In her essay on the photographer Diane Arbus in the January 15 issue of The New York Review Janet Malcolm gets some facts wrong regarding my biography of Diane Arbus (published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1984).
It is simply not true that my biography was “almost universally disliked.” The reverse is the case; the book was widely praised (“sensitive…detailed…balanced”—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times, June 7, 1984). It has been in print for over twenty years (current publisher Norton paperback) and it remains the only full-length biography of the artist.
I worked six years on the book with my editor Robert Gottlieb. It is not true that the book was “largely based” on my interviews with “self-promoting contemporaries…” and “faithless women….” It was in fact based on the comprehensive interviews I had with Arbus’s mother, Gertrude Nemerov, with Arbus’s sister Renee, as well as with close friends Alex and Jane Eliot, Tina Fredericks, and Emil D’Antonio—among others—not to mention photographers such as Gary Winogrand, Hiro, and Bruce Davidson, to name only a few. They all gave generously of their time and thoughts.
I was not “denied letters.” I drew from the lengthy correspondence Arbus had with Peter Crookston; I also drew from letters Arbus wrote to various friends and I drew as well from Arbus’s high school journal, lent to me by her brother Howard Nemerov.
Finally I was pleased to note that Ms. Malcolm ended up admitting that my portrayal of Diane Arbus as “‘brooding and morbid and sexually perverse'” was accurate.
New York City
February 26, 2004