I'm the author of A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Art, and Letters, a biography of the Irish-born editor of Harper's Bazaar from 1934 through 1958. Snow -- a key figure, not just in fashion, but in American and European cultural life -- had been almost forgotten before my book was published (by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster) in 2005; it was a privilege to bring her back to prominence.
Snow was an outsize personality, funny, brilliant, imperious, endearing. She had a keen eye for talent of all kinds, discovering and / or nurturing the careers of such diverse figures as Cristobal Balenciaga, Andy Warhol, Diana Vreeland, Jean Cocteau, Truman Capote, and Lauren Bacall, and moving quickly to bring them into the pages of her Harper’s Bazaar.
Snow said her goal was to create a magazine for "the well-dressed women with a well-dressed mind." Her Bazaar brought first-rate journalism, fashion, fiction, and design —some of it startlingly avant-garde — to America, setting the cultural pace of this country for decades to come.
My research for Dash took me to Paris, New York, London, across Ireland, and through various corners of the U.S. Besides doing extensive archival work, I interviewed about 100 people who had worked with, or just been influenced by, Carmel Snow, among them: the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson; the couturier Hubert de Givenchy; Ned Rorem, the noted composer; and many others. Richard Avedon, the famous photographer, summed up her influence most succinctly: “Carmel Snow taught me everything I know,” he told me, in one of the last interviews he gave before his death in 2004.
My current biographical project examines the later years of Aaron Burr, founding father and former U.S. vice president. An essay I wrote about Burr, derived from this project, is to be published in a forthcoming issue of The American Scholar.
For more details about Dash and some of my other published works, please click on the 'Reviews' tab above.
My other recent books include two anthologies compiled for Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. In each case, I edited the collection, while also contributing the introduction and an essay of my own.
Now in its 7th printing, Paris Was Ours (2011) takes as its subject not the city itself, but the transformative effect of living there -- something I have done a few times in my life. I reached out to others who had spent serious time in Paris, too, curious to see if their experiences matched my abiding sense that, while this city can be a difficult, even impossible, place to live, its influence on one's own life and thinking is surprisingly deep and longlasting. Contributors include: Diane Johnson; the Cuban novelist Zoe Valdes,; Joe Queenan; Judith Thurman; the Iraqi-born editor Samuel Shimon; Stacy Schiff, and many others.
Similarly, the subject of my anthology The Beatles Are Here! (2014) was not so much this legendary band itself, but the impact of its hugely dramatic 1964 arrival in the United States. The book includes essays by such writers as Lisa See, Greil Marcus, Pico Iyer, Sigrid Nunez, and Roy Blount, Jr., as well as oral histories by musicians, from Billy Joel to Bob Dylan, and assorted fans.
The first books I wrote were three volumes on design, all published by Chronicle Books. Weekend Houses, which I coauthored with photographer Mark Darley, was published in 2000. Two years later, I came out with monographs on the work of Jean Prouvé and Eileen Gray -- two forward-thinking European industrial designers from the 1930s (and beyond) -- as part of Chronicle's Compact Design series.