It Takes a Village to Raise a Nepo Baby

Magazines may come and go, but their legacies of nepotism span generations. In this installment, we look at the families who have populated The New Yorker (the Fleischmanns, Whites, Lardners) and the children of other publications who became contributors (Anthony Bourdain, Evan Osnos, Antonia Hitchens), the children of The Paris Review (Sarah Koenig, Taylor Plimpton), and book world babies (Sam Sifton, David Grann, Molly Jong-Fast)

PART 1: A Compendium of Media Nepotism


Little magazines crop up as frequently as mushrooms in both print media’s boom times and its most relentless droughts. Some are tasteful, others poisonous, but there are more than anyone can keep track. Most are never heard of beyond the limited circles of their founders’ friends and disappear when anonymity and exhaustion begin to outweigh the initial burst of enthusiasm, leaving hardly a trace. But some little magazines thrive — whether through the enormous infrastructure-building zeal of the founders or their close relationships with dependable deep pockets or, often, both — and grow into institutions that loom over succeeding generations. The legacies these hardy titles leave behind include an archive of published issues and a network of connections btetween people, often led by these magazines’ early contributors seeking to create footholds for their children. As passion projects ossify into monuments, oaklings flourish. 


The New Yorker began in 1925 as a “little magazine,” a term early editor James Thurber used in his memoir The Years with Ross. For much of the 20th century, it unapologetically remained a family business, even as it outgrew its roots. The money to back the founding of the magazine came primarily from Raoul Fleischmann, an heir to the Fleischmann Yeast Company and poker buddy to Harold Ross, who had spent the First World War working for Stars and Stripes in France before returning to New York and taking up with the Algonquin Round Table crowd. As the opening of Fleischmann’s 1969 New York Times obituary put it, he “escaped a lifetime of baking bread by backing that improbable and fretful genius, Harold Ross, in the creation of The New Yorker magazine.” With an initial $25,000 investment (Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, credited as the first full-time female reporter at The New York Times, put in $20,000), Fleischmann would serve as the first publisher, chairman, and president of the F-R Publishing Corp., named using Fleischmann and Ross’s initials. Three months after The New Yorker published its debut issue in February 1925, with circulation struggling at 8,000 copies and the business losing $5,000 per week, Fleischmann announced at a Princeton Club lunch with Ross and others working on the magazine that he was suspending publication. Afterward, while walking on 42nd Street, Fleishmann heard one of the business consultants say, “I can’t blame Raoul for a moment for refusing to go on, but it’s like killing something that’s alive.” The remark stuck with him, and later that afternoon, he changed his mind and would go on to pour $700,000 of his family’s fortune into the magazine over the next two years (a sum worth north of $12 million in today’s dollars) before the venture began turning a profit in 1928.

Over the following decades, The New Yorker went on to become a smashing commercial success. In his withering 1965 profile of the magazine for fledgling New York, Tom Wolfe dissed the title for maintaining a “strikingly low level of literary achievement” and dismissed it as “national shopping news” for the “educated women with large homes and solid hubbies and the taste to … buy expensive things” who populated America’s spreading post-war suburbs. A typical issue on the coffee tables of such homes, he described, consisted of “full pages of editorial matter, prints, and cartoons, only for the first fourth of the magazine. After that, typically, practically to the end of the magazine, will be a full-page ad on one page and two columns of ads and one column of print on the page facing it.” Those “tropical forests of ads,” as Wolfe put it, had turned The New Yorker Magazine, Inc., (as the company was renamed in 1947) into a high-flying stock. Shares that were originally valued at $33.33 in 1924 had by 1968 soared to $2,300.

Freed from the yeast trade, Fleischmann approached the business side of The New Yorker much the same way as Adolph Ochs had at The New York Times. His stepson Stephen Botsford, whose mother Ruth Gardner Botsford, an heiress to a family that manufactured steam engine equipment, Fleischmann had divorced in 1936, took over the presidency for five years starting in 1956. “I’m getting old and tired, and I don’t want to be President of The New Yorker anymore,” Botsford told Gay Talese, then of The New York Times, when he resigned in 1961. He added, “I’m not mad at anybody.” Peter Fleischmann, the son Fleischmann and Botsford had together before their divorce, took over as president of the company in 1968 and retired the year after S.I. Newhouse Jr. (himself an heir to the Advance Publications newspaper empire assembled by his father S.I. Newhouse Sr.) bought the magazine in 1985 and not long after replaced Ross’s successor as editor William Shawn with Robert Gottlieb. “The takeover of The New Yorker was hard to bear,” Fleischmann told The Times. “For 60 years there had been a Fleischmann on the premises and in charge, and now there was none.”

Fleischmann’s other stepson Gardner Botsford was initially brought on as a reporter after graduating from Yale in 1939, but Ross — whose relationship with Fleischmann was famously rocky — sent him packing after a dispute with the Fleischmann family. Shawn, then a managing editor, brought Botsford back in 1942. “Botsford, unfortunately, is a Fleischmann ex-stepson,” Shawn wrote to Ross. “But I don’t see why that should be a consideration.” Botsford remained an editor at the magazine until 1982. He married staff writer Janet Malcolm, whose pieces he had begun editing in the 1960s, in 1975, following the death of her first husband, Donald Malcolm, who had been a theater and book critic for the magazine before a long illness cut his career short in 1964. Of Botsford and Malcolm’s romance, fellow staff writer Roger Angell told The New York Times, “Their love grew out of the editing.”

As it happens, Angell is usually the first name anyone familiar with The New Yorker brings up on the question of the magazine’s history of nepotism. Financial and editorial success had made the magazine an appealing destination for the children of the staff who weren’t members (or ex-members) of its funding family. Angell’s mother Katharine Sergeant Angell White had joined the magazine the year it was founded and essentially created its fiction department. Shawn once wrote that more than anyone but Ross, White “gave The New Yorker its shape, and set it on its course.” Angell, who was four years old when the magazine launched, was primarily raised by his father Ernest Angell, a lawyer who would go on to become the president of the American Civil Liberties Union after divorcing Katharine in 1929, following her affair with E.B. White, a legendary contributor to the magazine who she had convinced Ross to hire as a newsbreaks editor in 1926. They soon married, and in 1938 moved to Maine.

After graduating from Harvard in 1942 during the Second World War, Angell joined the Army Air Force and worked on its magazines while he was stationed in Hawaii. He got his first byline in The New Yorker in 1944, a light observational scene piece about a table of women at a Manhattan hotel restaurant. After the war, Angell continued contributing to the magazine and did a stint at the travel magazine Holiday. When he was hired to The New Yorker full-time in 1956, there were some on the staff who protested. “The staff just felt they’d had enough of the Whites,” Angell told The New York Observer a half century later. “But Shawn came to me and made me an offer. And it was a natural thing, because I was a good editor by that time and I knew the magazine.” He became a fiction editor and, for a time, occupied his mother’s old office. “When I mentioned the coincidence of occupancy to the psychiatrist I was visiting back then, his jaw fell open,” Angell wrote in his memoir Let Me Finish. “‘The greatest single act of sublimation in my experience,’ he proclaimed.” When Angell died last year, aged 101, he’d become a living symbol of the magazine’s history. “I once came to him complaining about how hard it was to find writing that was truly funny,” wrote current editor David Remnick in his remembrance. “Roger, as if recalling a recent Tuesday, replied, ‘Harold Ross said the same thing.’”

Angell was far from the only oakling to find a home at The New Yorker. Wolcott Gibbs Jr., who went by Tony, followed his father and namesake onto the staff, contributing as a writer and editor, like his old man. Anthony West, son of contributors Rebecca West and H.G. Wells, reviewed books for the magazine over two decades. Jane Mankiewicz, a granddaughter of early contributor, Marx Brothers producer, and Citizen Kane co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, was on the organizing committee when the staff tried to form a union in the Shawn era.

The Lardner family has maintained its affiliation with The New Yorker for three generations. Ring Lardner, who Ross’s biographer Thomas Kunkel referred to as a “crony” of the editor, started writing for the magazine in 1925, contributing his first piece in the ninth issue and his last in 1933, the year he died. His son David Lardner was brought into the fold aged 20 by managing editor St. Clair McKelway and wrote movie reviews and for the Tables for Two department before setting off to Europe, over Shawn’s protestations, to cover the Second World War. He died almost immediately when his jeep drove over a pile of land mines. David’s widow Frances Chaney, an actress who had also dated New Yorker staff writer E.J. Kahn, married his brother Ring Lardner Jr., who would become an Oscar-winning and blacklisted screenwriter. His other brother John Lardner also filed dispatches for the magazine from the war while writing for Newsweek and subsequently became a regular contributor. “The Lardners are a bad risk, I think. The one that was killed in Spain [David and John and Ring Jr.’s brother James Lardner, who died fighting as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in The Spanish Civil War] was hell-bent to get into the war, being not satisfied as a correspondent. David, we now learn, was oblivious to buzz bombs during his stay in London, and now John is going to the Jap war regardless,” Ross wrote in a 1944 memo to Raoul Fleischmann. “Maybe there’s a compulsion in the family.”

John Lardner’s daughter Susan Lardner, whose mother Hazel Lardner had also contributed to The New Yorker sparingly, became a staff writer in 1960. “My father got me my first job,” she told The Fine Print. “When I was a junior in college, I got a job through him at Time magazine as a clip girl, so-called at the time, preparing stuff. But then the following year, just before I graduated, he died, and there had been no discussion or no plan. My mother called Shawn at The New Yorker and got me a job on Talk of the Town.” Since then, she’s had different ideas of where she’d rather have started out. “Ideally, it would have been better to start with a job at something like The Daily Mirror, where there was a lot of pressure and the kind of stories I like anyway,” she said. “I’m a tabloid fan.” But The New Yorker is where she started and spent the next 31 years.

Ring Jr.’s son James Lardner, named after his late uncle, wrote his first story for the magazine in 1967. “The New Yorker was famously nepotistic,” he told The Fine Print. “At the time, the other person who wrote for The New Yorker was my cousin Susan. She was a staff writer when I was in college, and, through family connections, I’m sure, I don’t remember exactly how it happened, I had a summer job at The New Yorker, and I wrote a Talk of the Town.” James went to work for The Washington Post in the ’70s but came back to the magazine as a staff writer in 1983. “It suffered” from the nepotism, he said. “It was definitely a kind of insular place, but it also got a lot of good people.”

The major exception to this nepotistic culture was Shawn’s own son, the writer and actor Wallace Shawn. “Mr. Shawn claimed he could not hire Wallace because of a No Nepotism rule. But there seemed, except in the case of Wally, to be no such rule,” former New Yorker staffer Renata Adler wrote in her controversial 1999 memoir Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, listing many of the people we’ve covered here. “The exclusion of Wallace, seemed to me to be motivated by something more complex than the best interests of the magazine.” While the 1981 film adaptation of the play that boosted Wallace’s entertainment career, My Dinner with Andre, was distributed by New Yorker Films, that company shared nothing more than a name with the magazine. And yet, Wallace could never escape the mark of his father. “I sensed the familiar combination of power and panic which is the birthmark of a famous pedigree,” wrote longtime staff writer John Lahr, son of The Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr, in a 1996 New Yorker profile of the younger Shawn. “We were both sons of cultural royalty: his father was a king of high culture, mine of low culture.”

When Tina Brown replaced Gottlieb as The New Yorker’s unexpected and iconoclastic new editor in 1992, writers like the Lardners fell away from the magazine. “They became quite unreceptive to any of the old writers,” Susan Lardner recalled. “Whatever things I proposed were turned down, so I quit. I went to school and got a master’s degree and ended up as a teacher of English as a second language.” She taught Haitian and Vietnamese immigrants in factories around Connecticut and at Norwalk Community College. Her son Caleb Hellerman entered journalism through a different medium, passing through ABC News, CNN, andPBS Newshour, and landing as an executive producer at the Global Health Reporting Center.

The masthead had already been in turmoil when Brown arrived. With The New Yorker’s business fortunes fading since its 1960s commercial heyday, there had been periodic upheavals. One of the largest came in 1987 when 154 staffers and contributors signed an open letter to Gottlieb (and cc’d to Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse) protesting his appointment as editor and urging him to resign. Brown would weather her own share of controversies — novelist Jamaica Kincaid, at the time married to Shawn’s son Allen Shawn, a composer who teaches at Bennington College, resigned as a staff writer in 1995 to protest the selection of Roseanne Barr as the guest editor of a special issue about women — before decamping in 1998 to launch Talk magazine with backing from Hearst Magazines and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films. But in her six years at the magazine’s helm, she was also responsible for remaking much of the masthead. Among the new names she brought in are editorial director Henry Finder, articles editor Susan Morrison, former deputy editor Pamela Maffei McCarthy, former executive editor Dorothy Wickenden, as well as some of the writers who would become some of the magazine’s best-known bylines: Jane Mayer, Malcolm Gladwell, Anthony Lane, and, of course, a Washington Post reporter she hired soon after taking the job, David Remnick. “Almost no one quit in protest!” Brown told The Fine Print. “I didn’t hire or fire on nepotism. Only on talent.”

Though James Lardner believes Brown was “a horrifically bad choice,” he allows that she succeeded in breaking the insularity and bringing in new blood. “It’s like a joke that my school friends used to play with me when I was growing up in Manhattan — only in Manhattan would this happen — they would push you out into the street in the way of oncoming traffic, and then pull you back and say, ‘Saved your life,’” he said. “That was sort of what The New Yorker was like when they put Tina Brown in charge and then saved our lives by replacing her with David Remnick.” Lardner returned to writing for The New Yorker in 2019 and last published a Daily Comment on February 27. “I had just stopped thinking of The New Yorker as a possible place to be published for a mere 20 years,” he said. “I had assumed that I was persona non grata. It turned out I wasn’t.”


In the Remnick era, absorption of internal oaklings has all but disappeared at The New Yorker. As far as we can tell, since Brown’s departure, staff writer Ben McGrath, son of former deputy editor Chip McGrath, and Cora Frazier, daughter of longtime contributor Ian Frazier, who regularly contributes Shouts and Murmurs, are the only current staff or regular contributors whose parents also worked for the magazine. Ben McGrath might have the distinction of being the last of the children of The New Yorker to find a more-or-less permanent home in its pages. But by the time he joined as a fact-checker in 1999, his father, once seen as Shawn’s presumptive successor, had become the editor of The New York Times Book Review.

Instead, the magazine has offered an unusually warm welcome to the refugee oaklings from other powerful institutions. A story that’s often told about Remnick as a commissioning editor involves perhaps the most famous oakling ever to escape the orbit of The New York Times. In the mid-’80s and ’90s, Anthony Bourdain had been trying to become a writer alongside his career working in restaurants. He had originally submitted an article he had drafted and would eventually expand into his book Kitchen Confidential to the alt-weekly New York Press but grew frustrated when they delayed publishing it. His mother Gladys Bourdain was a longtime copy editor at The New York Times and was friendly with Times reporter Esther Fein, wife of Remnick, who had recently started editing The New Yorker. Bourdain pressed her son’s draft on Fein, and as Remnick recalled in a 2018 interview, “Very apologetically, Anthony’s mother said, ‘My son has written something, and maybe you could pass it along to your husband.’ Esther brought it home and said, ‘Do me a favor and be polite to Ms. Bourdain.’” The editor said, “I immediately found myself entertained,” Bourdain’s story was published in the magazine in 1999, the bestselling book Kitchen Confidential was published the following year, resulting in both a TV sitcom and a feature film of the same title.

In the stories of orphaned oaklings, Remnick often recurs in the similar role of the strikingly solicitous establishment figure. “David Remnick at The New Yorker was a friend of my dad and is an acquaintance of mine and so I’m able to send him things directly,” Taylor Plimpton, son of Paris Review founding editor George Plimpton, told The Fine Print. (We have more about him below.) “Nine times out of ten, the response is thank you for this, but it’s not right for us. But he always reads them, which is amazing, and sometimes offers a little bit of commentary, and every now and then, it’s something that he wants. I haven’t actually been published in the magazine proper, but on newyorker.com. Just the fact that I can reach out to him directly is amazing, and it’s so sweet of him, too. I’m sure he’s such a busy man and to give my stuff the time of day, it’s just so kind.”

In her memoir All That You Leave Behind, documentarian Erin Lee Carr, daughter of New York Times media columnist David Carr, recalled Remnick approaching her at her father’s funeral. “I was surprised; I’d only met him a couple of times during the outings he and my dad took to the U.S. Open every year. I’d sent him a couple of links of my work at the request of my dad, but I didn’t know him well at all. I braced myself,” she wrote. “David’s face was warm and expressive as his dark eyes looked down at me. ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in life. Your father proved that smart man wrong. What a hell of a second act.’ He moved along quickly, but made sure to mention that he’d stay in touch.”

Several of Remnick’s assistants have been oaklings, including current New York Review of Books editor Emily Greenhouse, daughter of former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, and current New Yorker staff writer Louisa Thomas, daughter of Newsweek veteran Evan Thomas. When the Thomases participated in a joint interview on the Longform podcast, Evan explained his role in his daughter’s first newsroom job. “I helped get her a summer job at The Washington Post in the sports section when she was 16 years old as a clerk,” he said. “It was pretty direct. I called George Solomon [the sports editor] and I said, ‘Would you please hire my daughter the high school junior?’” After that, he said, he hadn’t been involved in getting her work. “That’s not totally fair,” Louisa replied. “I think that it helped being hired at The New Yorker that Dorothy Wickenden knew who my dad was.”

Some of the writers who’ve become regular contributors under Remnick are oaklings. Evan Osnos is the son of former Washington Post foreign and national editor Peter Osnos, who also founded PublicAffairs Books. Antonia Hitchens, daughter of Christopher Hitchens, a writer who seemed to have published everywhere but The New Yorker, started at the magazine as a fact-checker and has since contributed a steady stream of articles, including one about parents bringing their child into the family business. At an event the Osnoses did together in 2021, Peter joked about his son’s reputation eclipsing his. “I published my own memoir earlier this year and people said what I should have called it was I Am Evan Osnos’s Father,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that to be a writer and journalist and editor and have your offspring go into the same line of work and make the mark that Evan’s making is an unusually great thrill.” Evan was equally gracious. “To state the obvious, if my dear dad had been in the shoe business, I’d be in the shoe business,” he said. “It’s not too late to go into the shoe business,” Peter replied.

There were some precursors to these outside oaklings in earlier eras. During the Second World War, when Ross reluctantly hired a group of women reporters, he brought on F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s daughter Frances Scott Smith. Francine du Plessix Gray, a stepdaughter of Condé Nast editorial director Alexander Liberman, contributed her first piece to the magazine in 1967, well before it joined the Condé stable. She stopped writing for them in 1976, returning only in 1990, by which point Gottlieb was editing the magazine under Liberman’s aegis. In a 1983 diary entry, Tina Brown protested Liberman pushing Gray onto the cover of Vanity Fair before she took over editing that magazine. “That’s truly a desperate move on so many levels. First, unabashed nepotism to put Alex’s stepdaughter on the cover, however good a writer she may be,” she wrote. “Why would Alex let him do it? I guess he’s just milking the mag to give more and more promotion to friends and family and enhance at least the personal power base.” But when Brown took over from Gottlieb, Gray’s contributions picked up to a rate not seen since the ’70s.

Where have the oaklings of The New Yorker gone while their counterparts from other biomes found homes at the magazine? Sometimes when Nadja Spiegelman was a kid, she’d go to work with her mother, New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly. Her father, Maus cartoonist Art Spiegelman, is a prolific New Yorker cover contributor. “I sat on the couch in her big office and watched as artists came with their sketches for magazine covers. She circled the pictures with her red pen, climbed on a chair, steady in her short leather skirt and heels, and tacked the sketches to the wall. She pulled proofs, ran down to the printing department, corrected colors, told the fact-checkers (who checked every image with shocking literalness) that rabbits could be pink when it was Easter. Sometimes she gave me scissors, and I made crazed snowflakes from her scrap paper, trying to imitate her constant motion,” she wrote in her memoir I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. “I gave my creations to every person on the floor, running between the offices, never doubting their gratitude for a second. When I was with my mother, I felt invulnerable.”

After Spiegelman graduated from Yale, she went to work for The Forward. “I was unhappy there in the way presumptuous young people often are in their first jobs. I believed I could see all of the company’s dysfunction and the solutions to it. Yet, despite my extraordinarily clear memos, my superiors refused to let me overhaul the organization,” she wrote in the memoir. “A year and a half after I had graduated, my mother offered to hire me. It seemed a simultaneously wonderful and terrible idea.” This wasn’t for a job at The New Yorker, but at Toon Books, the comics publishing house Mouly ran out of their family home. Spiegelman spent two years there, eventually moving into the web editorship of The Paris Review and founding the short-lived magazine of international literature Astra.

Two of Remnick’s own children followed him into journalism. Noah Remnick was a James Reston fellow at The New York Times. Alex Remnick is a freelance social media producer and writer at Retro Report (whose founder Christopher Buck is the son of Subway co-founder Peter Buck) and releases music under the moniker Remniqe. “My parents place has a bookshelf in one of the bathrooms,” Alex once tweeted, “because painting the front door like a New Yorker cover would have been too subtle.”

The list of New Yorker oaklings who’ve landed at adjacent perches runs on almost endlessly. Alex Vadukul, son of The New Yorker’s second staff photographer Max Vadukul, is a city correspondent at The New York Times. Nona Willis-Aronowitz, daughter of The New Yorker’s first pop music critic Ellen Willis, has been an editor at Splinter and a columnist for Teen Vogue. She’s also spent much of her career shoring up the legacy of her mother, who died when she was 22, editing collections of her music criticism and feminist thought. Ada Calhoun, daughter of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, started out as a reporter at The Austin Chronicle and has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the New York Post. “For years, I fought becoming a writer. … The problem was how I’d keep my father from knowing. I worried that if he read anything I’d written, he’d say something withering. Plus, I hated the idea of someone seeing our shared last name — Schjeldahl is distinctive; the relationship would be obvious — and thinking that I got where I was because of him,” she wrote in a Times opinion essay. “For my byline, I turned my middle name, Calhoun, into my last.” When Calhoun published her memoir of her father last year, she was profiled in The New York Times by fellow oakling Casey Schwartz, daughter of Vanity Fair writer-at-large Marie Brenner. Staff writer Mark Singer’s son Reid Singer was an associate editor at Outside. Staff writer Jon Lee Anderson’s son Maximo Anderson has been a fact-checker on several Vice News podcasts. A few months ago, he posted on LinkedIn that he was looking for work.


The New Yorker may be the 20th century’s most successful little magazine, but it’s hardly alone in spawning a literary web of familial connections. The first reporting trip Serial host and executive producer Sarah Koenig can remember is a quixotic jaunt from California to Canada in search of Bigfoot when she was about ten with her mother Maria Eckhart and stepfather, the writer Peter Matthiessen. In 1953, before he began his search for Bigfoot in earnest, Matthiessen co-founded The Paris Review. Later he would claim he started the literary magazine as a cover for his work spying for the CIA, but at the time, he fit in seamlessly with the pack of obscenely wealthy young men and women that grew around it, hosting the first of its parties in his apartment just outside of Montparnasse. The crowd that gathered there and later at founding editor George Plimpton’s Upper East Side apartment had enough literary juice to give rise to a generation of oaklings.

Koenig is fond of memories of traveling through the wilderness with her parents in the covered truck bed of a pick-up. “That was my lair in the back. I could lie down, and I had stuffed animals back there and a journal,” she told The Fine Print. “We went up to Vancouver and stayed on an Indian reservation. It was a super interesting trip, but I was ten years old. I was aware he was doing some sort of research, and they were going off to look for Bigfoot, but I was not looking for Bigfoot. And spoiler alert, I do not think they found the Bigfoot, but I don’t know for sure.” (Matthiessen’s nephew Jeff Wheelwright claimed in a 2019 Yale Review essay that the writer believed he’d seen the cryptid: “While driving in the backcountry investigating reports of Bigfoot, he’d seen a tall, bipedal figure run across the road and disappear into the trees.”)

Having found fame as a podcast host, Koenig may be the best-known oakling of the bunch. (The Nation’spublisher Katrina vanden Heuvel is another contender for that title. Her mother Jean Stein, daughter in turn of MCA music mogul Jules Stein, first appeared in the magazine’s twelfth issue when she was in her early 20s, with an interview with William Faulkner, who she’d had an affair with. Stein went on to join the staff as an editor and collaborated with Plimpton on several oral history books.) “I grew up in a pretty rarefied New York media world,” Koenig said. “There were a lot of dinner parties and going here and going there and people coming over and people staying and editors coming to stay from London or wherever.” Yet, though the world of The Paris Review regularly intruded on her childhood in the Hamptons town of Sagaponack, it never felt like somewhere she’d fit in. “Did I think about, ‘Would I go work at The Paris Review?’ I didn’t ever try for that. I think that I didn’t feel smart enough,” she said. “The people I knew from The Paris Review were Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton. I was 12, so I’m just like, ‘I can’t work there; that’s where the lions go.’ That was their world.”

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1990, in typical oakling fashion, Koenig initially pursued theater and improv comedy. “It was so much fun to be with a team of people who made me laugh, we just made each other laugh all the time. It was heaven,” she said. “Peter was very on his own which suited him, but that did not appeal to me at all. Every morning he would get up super early, he would do his zen stuff, and then he would go off to his studio.” In between auditions, she took a job at The East Hampton Star, her local paper, initially covering fundraiser galas.

Even when Koenig found her way to reporting, she saw her work as fundamentally different from her stepfather’s, largely because he did. “He thought if you’re going to be a writer, you probably shouldn’t be a reporter — which is interesting now to me. He was just like, ‘You’re wasting your creative energy on your job. Your job should be something where you’re not using those same muscles and then when you write, you save all of your best self for that process. You’re just diluting whatever burgeoning talent — if you have any, you’re squandering it.’”

From The Star, she bounced around newsrooms, spending a year and a half in the New York Times Moscow bureau, and in 2004 landed at This American Life. She found that writing didn’t have to be such lonely work in those environments. “I really loved working in newsrooms and especially This American Life,” she said. “When I went there, it felt like being in a group and being like, ‘All right, let’s put on a show.’ You have meetings and everyone’s just kind of laughing. Work is getting done, but it was this sense of let’s all come together and make something collaboratively.”

Though Koenig wasn’t conscious of it early on, in some ways, she now thinks of the work she does as more similar to that of her father, the legendary ad man Julian Koenig, who is known for crafting the “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” slogan for Timex and the original 1959 “Think Small” campaign introducing the Volkswagen Beetle. “My dad was so enamored of language and words. What would come out constantly in conversation with him was wordplay,” she said. Not that she ever wanted to go into advertising. “I thought that was kind of gross. You’re selling watches, or you’re selling Dreyfus financial services. I didn’t think that was cool — and I totally loved my dad and respect my dad. It’s not like I turned my nose up at him or anything. No one knew this better than my dad. He had total clarity about what he was doing,” she said. “But now, I do realize, oh, yes, I’m selling shit also. It’s just different shit, but I am selling. And that is useful in terms of his wisdom about that — the way that he used language and the way that he tried to distill it to a clear idea.”

In some ways, that pragmatic approach separates her from her stepfather. Koenig writes for a living but doesn’t think of herself as a writer. “I think I have a version of it, but I don’t have what he had,” she said. “The thing that was a struggle in our family, and more I mean the Matthiessen side, was not so much being the child of a writer or being the child of a journalist, the framing for them is more being the child of an artist.” But isn’t there an element to what she does at Serial that’s artistic? “In the things that we make at Serial, and at This American Life too, there’s a beauty in it and a joy, a kind of explosion of creative joy that has beauty in it. I don’t know if that’s art, but I do have those moments for sure. It’s more like it’s a craft, what we do, that borrows from art, but I don’t know if it’s art,” she said. “Basically, I’m just a reporter.”

Though technically a Paris Review oakling of the same generation, Taylor Plimpton, a freelance writer and editor, is a little younger and got his start in media a little later, in the late ’90s. (“I remember Taylor. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I remember him,” Koenig said. “I knew Medora more. She’s his older sister.”) His father, who was about half a century older, harbored a measure of ambivalence about his son entering the industry. “My dad was supportive of the idea sort of, but also hyper-realistic about how terribly hard a job it is to do,” he told The Fine Print. “He was sort of proud that I was going to be following in his footsteps to a certain extent or trying to do some writing of my own and make that my livelihood. At the same time, he was, understandably, concerned for me and a little scared.”

Plimpton’s first job was a result of his father’s influence. “I started as an editorial assistant under Terry McDonell at Men’s Journal and Terry was one of my dad’s best friends so that was, obviously, a connection that he had hooked me up with,” he said. When McDonell hopped down the hall to Us Weekly, then another publication in Jann Wenner’s fleet, about a year later, Plimpton stayed on at the men’s magazine, eventually becoming an assistant editor. But he found the work to be a bit of a grind. “There was some amazing writing that happened at Men’s Journal, but there was also a lot of gear product reviews and things that just didn’t really interest me,” he said. “There was a sense in which it just wasn’t for me, so I moved on and tried to focus on writing a book and writing freelance.”

While pitching his own work, Plimpton found that his father’s reputation was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as with his notes to Remnick, he found it relatively easy to get people to pay attention to him. “So often people send things in, and they end up in a slush pile. You have to go through this huge process of getting lucky enough for someone to recognize that there’s something good and then passing it up the ladder,” he said. “Having that advantage of being able to go to someone directly that you know who can make a decision and give them what you’ve written is huge.” But the disadvantages became apparent after publication. “When things are published, it seems like there’s a certain group of people out there who are basically like, ‘Oh, the only reason why this was published is because he’s George Plimpton’s son, and it’s actually shit and it’s all nepotism,’” he said. “It’s a gut reaction of people out there, and that’s sometimes a little hard to wrestle with. But when you weigh that with all the benefits, I certainly wouldn’t change positions.”

In 2010, Plimpton published his first book Notes from the Night, an odyssey through New York clubs, which on the surface is very different from the books his father wrote. It’s undoubtedly no Paper Lion, in which the elder Plimpton joined the Detroit Lions training camp. “The pressure I felt was to do something different than my dad,” he said. “Ironically, I guess, I did end up sort of doing the same thing. My first book was a memoir about nightlife, but in a certain sense, it’s first-person creative nonfiction about entering a world and trying to portray it to people. So it wasn’t that different from what my dad was doing. It was just a different arena.”

The press around the book tended to center on the family connection. “The ledes were all about how it was George Plimpton’s son’s first book. It’s hard to complain about that because there probably wouldn’t have been any press about it were it not for that, but at the same time, some of it’s not even focused on the book,” he said. “The New York Times article that came out was about the book party, not the book.” Despite the attention, Plimpton has yet to publish a follow-up. “My first book didn’t sell as well as the publishers would have hoped or I would have hoped, in spite of all the press. So I think that’s been one of the things that’s gotten in the way of another book being published. I’ve had a couple proposals out there and ideas, and nothing has come to fruition,” he said. “I don’t think that had too much to do with my dad. It was just the circumstances. I think the topic of my first book was one that, excepting something like Bright Lights, Big City, is not really something people want to read about. The people who go out to clubs are not necessarily readers.”

In the wake of the book’s commercial failure, Plimpton has faced the financial uncertainty that has overtaken the industry since his father’s heyday. “It’s all so mysterious right now. No one really knows what exactly is going to happen or how people are going to make money with it or how everyone’s going to survive,” he said. “I’ve certainly suffered from the results of all that.” He’s cobbled together a work life, writing for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, freelance editing for sites like Love, Dog, and teaching at St. Joseph’s College MFA program and the recently shuttered Catapult classes. “It hasn’t been easy making a living from any of it,” he said. “‘I’m still finding my way’ is the truth of it.”

He’s also tried to move past his residual self-consciousness about continuing to reside in George Plimpton’s shadow 20 years after his father’s death. “You get older, and you realize that certain things aren’t worth going over and over again in your head and beating yourself up about. You move on a little bit. I’m sure there’s more to be processed with it, but it’s just not worth my time to worry about that stuff too much,” he said. “I can’t undo who my dad was, and I guess I could decide to go into a different field, but this is what I have some skill in and what I love doing, so I just have to do my thing and plow ahead.”


Literary magazines border on book publishing, and the children of book editors sometimes make a mark when crossing over. New York Times assistant managing editor Sam Sifton’s mother Elisabeth Sifton, who herself was the daughter of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was a writer and book editor who was editor in chief of Viking and held senior roles at Knopf and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Throughout her long career, she edited writers, including Philip Gourevitch, Victor Navasky, John “Rick” MacArthur, Peter Matthiessen, Ann Douglas, Don DeLillo, and Saul Bellow. New Yorker staff writer David Grann is the son of former Penguin Putnam CEO Phyllis Grann, who published writers including Tina Brown, Tom Clancy, Jeffrey Toobin, and Kurt Vonnegut. “In my case, I don’t think it had that much effect,” Grann told The Fine Print. “The one piece of advice my mother gave me was whatever you do, don’t become a writer. And I didn’t heed it!”

Sometimes people move in the other direction too. Chip McGrath’s daughter Sarah McGrath is a senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Riverhead. When he left the editorship of The New York Times Book Review, Chip briefly considered taking a job in book publishing but decided against it. “One of the things that made me hesitate was both my daughter and my son-in-law were already in the business, and I thought, gosh, they probably don’t need me there too,” he told The Fine Print last year. McGrath’s New Yorker colleague Daniel Menaker did make the jump, becoming executive editor-in-chief of Random House. His son Will Menaker became an editor at Liveright before quitting to work on the podcast Chapo Trap House, which got an early boost from a New Yorker profile.

Oaklings can be found at many publications, and The Fine Print is no exception. Contributing reporter Sophie Krichevsky is the daughter of literary agent Stuart Krichevsky, whose eponymous agency represents journalists including C.J. Chivers, Pamela Colloff, Sebastian Junger, Michael Finkel, and Kaitlyn Tiffany, and book editor Pamela Dorman, who has an eponymous imprint at Viking and edited the novels The Secret Life of Bees and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Her maternal grandfather Michael Dorman was a writer and editor at Newsday. “My parents met in publishing. They were essentially set up on a blind date from someone in publishing,” she said. “Obviously, it was gonna be part of my life, regardless of whether I wanted it or not.”

Krichevsky started reporting professionally as an intern at Publishers Lunch. Though her parents didn’t actively do anything to help her land the gig, she said, “I’d be naive to think that who my parents are didn’t play a role in getting the job at Pub Lunch.” Covering her parents’ world occasionally led to acute discomfort. “I would email someone for a comment or something and I would be like, ‘There’s no way they don’t know who my parents are.’ And I hated that because I didn’t like feeling like I was going to be Pam and Stuart’s daughter no matter what I did,” she said. When she co-reported a story about New York Times opinion columnist and former New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul for The Fine Print with this reporter last year, her immersion in publishing came in handy, but the work she does now, here and at the Queens Chronicle, where she’s an associate editor, rarely touches on her parent’s world directly. “At the Chronicle, I’m never going to talk to anyone related to publishing, most likely,” she said, “which I kind of like.”


Writers who make their biggest impact primarily through their books, outside of a close association with any particular publication, produce oaklings too. Ben Ehrenreich followed his mother Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and many other wonderful books, into journalism, but she started writing for Mother Jones long after he did. The elder Ehrenreich started writing for the magazine after Clara Jeffery, the editor who worked on the articles that became Nickel and Dimed at Harper’s, became its co-editor. Jeffery, as the daughter of National Geographic editor David Jeffery, is an oakling herself. New Republiccontributor David Rieff has spent a good deal of time editing posthumous collections of his mother Susan Sontag’s work. Vanity Fair special correspondent Molly Jong-Fast is the daughter of Erica Jong, a contributor to The New York Times, Elle, Vanity Fair, and Vogue who is most famous for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. (This reporter was unaware of the connection and not particularly aware of Jong-Fast’s mother until she referred to herself as “Erica Jong’s daughter” at a party. He thinks it’s cool that her grandfather Howard Fast wrote the novel adapted into Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, though.) “How does one get into the meat-selling business? I don’t know how you get into that business or any other, because I’ve never had a job. Well, that’s not true, I once worked for a gallery, but Mom had to pay them, so I don’t know if that counts as a job,” Jong-Fast wrote in her memoir Girl [Maladjusted], later adding, “Writing is the one recourse of the disinherited child of the famous.”

We’ll publish the next part in this series — featuring the children of The Washington Post, Time Inc., and other mid-century modern establishments — soon. Curious about an oakling we haven’t covered yet? Let us know.