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Former Prof to Share Front-Desk View of New Yorker's Golden Age

Before Professor Emerita Janet Groth joined the SUNY Plattsburgh faculty, she answered J.D. Salinger’s questions, helped James Thurber with his office space and gave directions to Woody Allen. She had lunches with famous authors and went on month-long paid vacations in Europe — all as a receptionist at the New Yorker.

Now the retired professor has written a book about the experience — “The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker” — and is coming back to campus to read from it and answer questions. Her reading, interview and discussion will take place from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, in Krinovitz Recital Hall, Hawkins Hall.

Her memoir has drawn the attention of publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker itself.

Reporter for the Times Steven Kurtz wrote of the book, “Given the pre-feminist times and high-powered office setting, it would be easy to draw comparisons to ‘Mad Men.’”

But, Kurtz added, it would have to be a version of the show where Peggy Olson is never recognized for her talents beyond the secretarial pool.

Mary Norris of the New Yorker speculates, “Probably the reason she remained a receptionist was that she was really good at it. She comes across in the book as having a kind of ‘negative capability,’ able to consort with a wide variety of characters.”

About her on-campus reading, Groth said she is excited to return to campus and that she hopes students will leave realizing that “there is a kind of arc to our journeys through life, and that — wherever they are — nothing is final, and they really have to stay in the game.

“I suppose it’s the same advice that Joseph Campbell gives in his ‘The Hero’s Journey’ — that you want to ‘follow your bliss.’”

In addition to working at the New Yorker and SUNY Plattsburgh, Groth has taught at Vassar College, Brooklyn College, the University of Cincinnati and Columbia University. She was a Fulbright lecturer in Norway and a visiting fellow at Yale. She is the author of “Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time,” a Northeast Modern Language Association award-winner, and co-author of “Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson.”

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