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Renata Alder

(1938 - )

ADLER, RENATA (1938– ), U.S. journalist, novelist, and film critic. Born in Milan, Italy, Adler graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1959; the Sorbonne in 1961; Harvard University in 1962; and Yale University Law School. Trained as a journalist, Adler worked intermittently for 20 years at the New Yorker magazine. Hired in her twenties by the legendary editor William *Shawn , she reported from Vietnam; from Selma, Ala., a civil rights hot spot; and from the Middle East. Her first two books were collections of essays and reviews written on assignment for that magazine and for the New York Times, where she worked, still in her twenties, for 18 months as a film critic, at a time when film became a serious intellectual, artistic, and political pursuit. Her generally negative reviews so angered the movie-making industry that in 1968 United Artists took out a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing her. Strom Thurmond attacked her on the floor of the Senate for her critique of the John Wayne film The Green Berets.

She returned to the New Yorker and was promptly sent to report on the civil war in Biafra. Then she went to Washington, where she was hired by the House Committee investigating the Watergate scandal to write speeches for the chairman, Representative Peter Rodino. In 1969, she turned to writing short stories. Her early work surfaced in the New Yorker, and she eventually collected and reshaped much of this short fiction into an award-winning first novel, Speedboat, a collection of short paragraphs offering snippets of narrative, sometimes presented randomly. Essentially Adler was creating a disturbing portrait of urban life. The critics, however, were unimpressed. The literary controversy was rekindled in 1983 with her second novel, Pitch Dark, an autobiographical story about a young woman running from her relationship with a married man. It was similar in style to her first novel, with a skeletal plot and observations arranged haphazardly.

Her legal training was reflected in her 1986 book, an exhaustive investigation into shoddy news reporting practices, Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time. It dealt with Ariel Sharon's libel suit against Time for its reporting of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon and Westmoreland's suit against CBS for accusing him of deception in estimating North Vietnamese troop strengths. Adler accused the defendants of refusing to acknowledge even the possibility of error and their lawyers with having displayed "a concerted disregard for the fundamental goals of truth and accuracy." CBS tried to get the book suppressed; the network was unsuccessful and the manuscript was published without change.

In the late 1980s, Adler became a single mother by adopting a baby and wrote little. Her critique of the venerated New Yorker film critic Pauline *Kael , published in the New York Review of Books, was particularly noteworthy for the viciousness of her attack. In 1999, she published Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker, a critique of the magazine after it changed ownership and editors. In 2001 came Canaries in the Mine-shaft: Essays on Politics and Media. She also contributed articles and short stories, sometimes under the pseudonym Brett Daniels, to the magazines National Review, Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Commentary, and Atlantic. She was a member of the editorial board of American Scholar from 1969 to 1975. She was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1973–74, won first prize in the O. Henry Short Story Awards in 1974, won the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1976, and the Ernest Hemingway Prize in 1976 for the best first novel. She taught at several universities and was a member of PEN and the National Academy of Arts and Letters.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.