Good fact to add to my arsenal.
Mitchell’s last piece for the magazine was the masterful “Joe Gould’s Secret,” which was published in 1964. Gould, a Village bohemian and self-proclaimed genius, was Mitchell’s most enigmatic subject: an “ancient, spectral figure;” “a banished man.” And yet, Mitchell identified with him more closely than one might have thought. Gould was a con artist, but, for Mitchell, the bohemian’s crumbling exterior was an irresistible invitation. The fact that Gould never produced his fabled “Oral History” was almost beside the point. In a 1992 interview about the two-part profile, Mitchell said that you “pick someone so close that, in fact, you are writing about yourself. Joe Gould had to leave home because he didn’t fit in, the same way I had to leave home because I didn’t fit in.”
Mitchell never wrote anything else for The New Yorker after that, and the mystery behind his literary silence has baffled many over the years. He would show up every day at the office, and colleagues often heard him typing away, but the next morning his desk would be clear. His mother and his dear friend Liebling both died in the mid-sixties, and then he lost his wife, Therese, in 1980, and this convergence of losses must have affected him deeply. He kept his office at the magazine for the next thirty-two years, until his death, in May of 1996.
A scribe of hidden lives, Mitchell let the streets speak to him. The city has changed, some of its sharper edges have smoothed over time, but there are still signs here and there of Mitchell’s New York. You just have to be willing to bend your ears and listen.