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In this installment of “Conversations at the Newberry,” David Denby and Adina Hoffman discuss the life and work of the brilliant chameleon Ben Hecht: sardonic Chicago newspaperman, scandal-seeking novelist, celebrated playwright, outspoken activist for Jewish causes, and the man Pauline Kael called “the greatest American screenwriter.”
About the speakers:
David Denby is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of an extended introduction to a new edition of Hecht’s 1954 autobiography, A Child of the Century. His books include American Sucker; Snark; Do the Movies Have a Future?; and Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World. He has also published a collection of his film criticism from The New Yorker and a study of high-school English teaching entitled Lit Up. He is currently working on a group biography of four Jewish Americans: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Friedan, Norman Mailer, and Mel Brooks. In 1991, he received a National Magazine Award for three of his articles on high-end audio. Before joining The New Yorker, Denby was film critic at New York magazine. His writing also has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic.
Adina Hoffman is an essayist and biographer whose recent book Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Prize for Biography and was named one of the best paperbacks of the year by the Sunday Times, which dubbed it “a revelation.” Her other books include My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century; Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City; and, with Peter Cole, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, which won the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Award for Outstanding Achivement in Jewish Literature in 2012. Hoffman is formerly a film critic for the Jerusalem Post and the American Prospect; her essays and criticism have appeared in the Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, Raritan, Bookforum, the Boston Globe, and on the World Service of the BBC. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and one of the inaugural winners of the Windham Campbell Literary Prizes, she lives in Jerusalem and New Haven.
Donated by Rose Hecht, the Ben Hecht Papers at the Newberry Library includes letters, artifacts, and manuscripts that illuminate Hecht’s career as a journalist, novelist, playwright, and Hollywood screenwriter.
“Conversations at the Newberry” is generously sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.
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