Born 1954 Verviers, Belgium. Family emigrated to the United States several times between 1959 and 1963. Settled in first Summit and then New Providence, New Jersey. Father employed in factory that manufactured fluorocarbon coatings (commercially known as Teflon); mother worked in high school cafeteria, executive dining room, eventually insurance office. Educated in Catholic grade schools, Jesuit high school, Columbia University. No apparent degrees, however.
After college clerked at the Strand Bookstore, assisted a photographer specializing in author portraits, employed by the New York Review of Books first in the mailroom, then as assistant to the much-missed Barbara Epstein. Later worked as proofreader at Sports Illustrated until the profession and the corporate gravy train both came to a halt more or less simultaneously at the dawn of the present age (early ‘90s). Taught at Columbia U. School of the Arts, then the New School, then, since fall 1999, Bard College, in writing and the history of photography.
Magazine work galore back when there were magazines. Film critic for Interview and Wigwag, photography critic for The New Republic, book critic for New York, crime critic for Spy. Pieces in the New York Review of Books since 1981, also many sections of the New York Times, Harper’s, Granta, The Village Voice, Artforum, Bookforum, Vogue, The American Scholar, High Times, Cabinet, many more. Also introductions and prefaces to books by, among others, Georges Simenon, Emile Zola, Walker Evans, Joseph Mitchell, Bob Dylan, A. J. Liebling, Chester Himes, Alexandre Dumas, Richard Stark, Weegee, Abelardo Morell, Todd Hido, Charles Willeford, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Guy Bourdin, Stephen Crane, William Roughead, James Nachtwey, David Maurer, and Jacob Riis.
Recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Cultural Award from the Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce, a Grammy (for album notes), an American Scholar Award for Best Literary Criticism, an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, and Guggenheim and Cullman Fellowships. MacDowell Colony fellow once so far.
Representation by the Joy Harris Literary Agency.