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New Yorker fiction editor leaves post

October 17, 2002|Hilary MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

After eight years at the New Yorker, during which he published a range of unknown, up-and-coming authors, Bill Buford will depart his post as fiction and literary editor at the end of December to return to writing.

"I think Bill is one of the great fiction editors that the New Yorker has ever had," said David Remnick, editor of the magazine. "It is always wonderful to keep publishing your terrific mainstays, like [John] Updike or [Alice] Munro, but everyone's challenge is to bring new voices into the chorus. He was able to do that with real intelligence and heart."

Some of those writers were Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers (whose first story published in the New Yorker was nonfiction) and Jhumpa Lahiri, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

In January, Buford, 48, will return to writing full-time, starting with three books for Knopf. "Heat" will be about Mario Batali, chef of Babbo in New York, whom Buford profiled this past summer in the New Yorker. A second book is a collection of short pieces for the BBC about life in America. The third is a memoir about his father, a nuclear physicist, and the aerospace industry in 1950s California.

A year from now, Remnick said, Buford will join Jane Kramer as a correspondent in Europe. The country has not yet been decided.

Buford came to the New Yorker after editing Granta for 15 years. While in England, the ex-pat is credited with turning the Cambridge literary magazine around, and giving early exposure to authors such as Salman Rushdie, Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Additionally, he wrote "Among the Thugs," a nonfiction book about crazed soccer fans.

George Plimpton, editor in chief of the Paris Review, said that the New Yorker remains the premier platform for American fiction.

"In the old days it was Esquire," Plimpton said, noting that Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were published there. It wasn't until the '40s, Plimpton said, that the New Yorker became a literary showcase. "For any writer to have fiction in the New Yorker is as high as you can go," Plimpton said.

The New Yorker has not yet named Buford's successor.

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