My ears are bent
In the fall of 1929 a young man from a small farming town in the swamp country of North Carolina arrived in New York City. Because of a preternatural inaptitude for mathematics, he had failed to receive a college degree from the University of North Carolina and suffered the added misfortune of arriving in the big city at the moment of the stock market crash. For the next eight years, except for a brief period when he got sick of the whole business and went to sea on a freighter to Leningrad, Joseph Mitchell worked first at The World, then as a district man at The Herald Tribune, and then as a reporter and feature writer at The World-Telegram. He covered the criminal courts, Tammany Hall politicians, major murder trials, and the Lindbergh kidnapping. He wrote multi-part profiles of notable figures of the day, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Franz Boas. His byline, appearing two or three times a day in The World-Telegram, would become familiar to almost four hundred thousand readers. But Mitchell discovered that it was not the politicians, business leaders, or noted celebrities of the day that he got the most pleasure out of interviewing, but people whose talk was “artless, the talk of the people trying to reassure or comfort themselves . . . talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.” He began to frequent gymnasiums, speakeasies, and burlesque houses. He visited storefront churches in Harlem, covered the waterfront, and spent time at the Fulton Fish Market. Fascinated by the bizarre and the strange, he would become, in the words of Stanley Walker, his noted editor at The Herald Tribune, “one of the best newspaper reporters in the city.” In January 1938, My Ears Are Bent, a collection of Mitchell’s newspaper pieces, was published. That book, unavailable for more than sixty years, is now restored to print. A few months after the book’s original publication, Mitchell joined the staff of The New Yorker, where he remained until his death in 1996.