Elizabeth Hardwick, a critic, novelist, and cofounder of The New York Review of Books, was born on July 27, 1916, in Lexington, Kentucky. Her hometown later served as the subject of her July 1969 Harper’s Magazine article, “Lexington, Kentucky.” “‘How can you be from here, and think like you do?’” she asks herself in the piece. “What can I answer except to say that I have been, according to my limits, always skeptical, and that I have, always, since my first breath, ‘been from Kentucky.’”
One object of her skepticism was contemporary literary criticism, which she outlined in her first essay for Harper’s, “The Decline of Book Reviewing” (October 1959). “Sweet, bland commendations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomized, accommodation reigns,” she wrote. The essay, commissioned by Robert Silvers, inspired her co-creation of The New York Review of Books with Silvers, Barbara Epstein, Jason Epstein, and Robert Lowell in 1963, during the 114-day New York newspaper strike.
Hardwick published three novels, four collections of criticism, and a biography of Herman Melville, in which she compared him to a “woebegone fellow in a silent film.” She passed away on December 2, 2007. “You felt that she wrote for you,” Derek Walcott eulogized, “you hoped that those brilliant monologues of the best prose writer in America would not ever reach a period, but you also knew that she would outlast it.”