A Critic’s Critic Quits His Day Job


Craig Lambert in The Chronicle of Higher Ed:

George Scialabba is no wild man. A soft-spoken, introverted soul, he doesn’t drink or smoke; no alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs. Healthy, moderate eating (no red meat, and “a kind of cerebral Mediterranean diet”) keeps Scialabba, at age 67, lean to a degree that is downright un-American. He has never married nor fathered children, and lives alone in a one-bedroom condo he has occupied since 1980. He doesn’t play sports (“I don’t exercise — I fidget”). For 35 years, Scialabba, a Harvard College alumnus, held a low-level clerical job at his alma mater that suited his low-profile style. For the past decade, his desk has occupied a windowless basement in a large academic building.

That’s the physical Scialabba: a bespectacled reed who could slip into any cocktail party nearly unnoticed.

The intellectual Scialabba is another story. Over those same 35 years, he has written nearly 400 essays and book reviews for The American Conservative, The Boston Globe, Commonweal, Dissent, Grand Street, The Nation, The Village Voice, The Washington Post, and many other outlets. His acuity, erudition, and polished prose have earned him thousands of readers and the admiration of some of the country’s leading minds.

The Harvard English professor and New Yorker contributor James Wood calls him “one of America’s best all-round intellects.” The author Barbara Ehrenreich asserts that “he is not only astoundingly intelligent, he knows just about everything — history, politics, culture, and literature.” The political theorist Daniela Cammack, currently a visiting lecturer at Yale, declares, “For my money, George is the finest living writer of nonfiction English prose. I know that’s a grand claim, but I stand by it. Every time a new book of [his] essays has come out, I’ve stayed up ’til 4 a.m. devouring it. That doesn’t usually happen.”

More here.