Out & About

September 19, 2013

Former professor's memoir a 'Mad Men' fix

PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Janet Groth exudes a magnetic mystique.

Former SUNY Plattsburgh colleagues and students alike were attracted to it and her elegance, wit and formidable intellect.

Above her easy, Midwestern smile, her hazel eyes danced with secrets of her critically received memoir, “The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker,” published by Algonquin Books. Released this summer, the book is in its fourth printing.

“Who knew there would be that many people interested in my failure to progress at The New Yorker?” said Groth, who will discuss and read from the book Wednesday evening in Krinovitz Recital Hall at the college.

About Groth’s 55-years-in-the-making literary debut, Steven Kurutz wrote in The New York Times:

“Written in lean, graceful prose that offers ample evidence of her talent, the book is as much a window into the mythologized publication as it is a chronicle of one woman’s self-discovery.”

Straddling William Shawn’s New Yorker tenure (1952-1987), Groth was immersed for 20 years in the magazine’s epicenter, dazzling with literati such as poet John Berryman and essayist Joseph Mitchell, to name two.

When she arrived in New York City in September 1957, Groth, a 19-year-old blonde hottie, was a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she had won the Anna Augusta Von Helmholtz Phelan award for her short fiction.

About the catalyst to the Big Apple from fly-over country, she writes in the memoir’s “Introduction; Or, Jack Spills the Beans”:

“It happened by the merest chance. Or perhaps the heavens were aligned.”

“I found myself working as a gal Friday at a CBS science show,” Groth said. “I worked for Arthur Zegart, who wrote the script about the manned-balloon flight. My brother (Joseph) worked for the man who made the balloon.”

Zegart invited her to send a resume if she ever relocated to New York City. She did straight away, and he received it three weeks later while fishing with his friend E.B. White in Maine. Her one New York contact led her to cross the threshold of White’s office at The New Yorker. To the interview, she wore a black-sheath dress and black pumps.

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