John McPhee: The Writing Life


We’ll talk with the great master of literary journalism, John McPhee about his craft and his collection of personal essays, Silk Parachute.

Princeton University Professor John McPhee, in Princeton, N.J., April 12, 1999. (AP)

If you’re a fan of literary nonfiction, John McPhee is the mountaintop. He’s the master of amazingly-informative, exactingly-sculpted, “you-can-read-it-two-or-three-times” journalism.

His process is exacting, and his attention to detail is exhaustive.

“What I do is go through the miserable business of a first draft,” McPhee says, “which is just, you know, masochism, and when I get it done, there’s a bit of a change comes over me, as I get a little calmer about what I’m doing.”

This hour in an archive edition of On Point, we speak with John McPhee about the writing life.

-Tom Ashbrook

Note: This show was first broadcast April 16, 2010.


John McPhee, author of more than 30 books and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His career as a staff writer for The New Yorker goes back to 1965. His new book is Silk Parachute.

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