‘Legend’ Janet Malcolm Dead At 86: Esteemed Journalist ‘Gave Us So Much’

Famed journalist Janet Malcolm died Wednesday at 86, with many of her friends, fans, and former colleagues honoring her legacy in social media posts.

Malcolm’s daughter, Anne Malcolm, told The New York Times that her mother died in a hospital in Manhattan, New York, due to lung cancer.

An esteemed staff writer for The New Yorker for more than five decades, Malcolm was widely regarded for her books “Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession” (1981), “In the Freud Archives” (1984), “The Journalist and the Murderer” (1990), “The Silent Woman” (1993) and many more. She was often lauded and criticized for her sharp, acerbic commentary on everyone, from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow to designer Eileen Fisher, author Sylvia Plath, and poet Ted Hughes.

Her New Yorker debut came in 1963 when the magazine published her poem “Thoughts on Living in a Shaker House.”

George Nikitin via AP

In the suit trial brought by psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson, the New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm leaves the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco in June 3, 1993. The latter claims he was misquoted and libeled in a 1983 magazine article. Malcolm, the inquisitive and boldly subjective author and reporter known for her challenging critiques of everything from murder cases and art to journalism itself, has died. She was 86. Malcolm’s death was confirmed Thursday by a spokesperson for The New Yorker, where Malcolm was a longtime staff writer.

The Guardian described Malcolm in 2011 as someone with “a kind of x-ray vision, the power to see through people’s pretensions.” The New York Times in 2019 called her a writer “uncommonly concerned with finding a form that delivers the force of the story she is telling.”

New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote a note on the publication’s website about Malcolm’s death, calling her a “dear friend” who was “immensely kind, full of scrupulous self-questioning about all acts of definitive judgment.”

Born in Prague in 1934 as Jana Wienerová, she emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1939 with her family and resided in Flatbush, Brooklyn, before moving to Yorkville in Manhattan. Malcolm ­attended the High School of Music and Art and the University of Michigan. Per The Paris Review, “it was there where she began writing for the school paper, The Michigan Daily, and the humor magazine, The Gargoyle, which she later edited.”

Malcolm married twice. Her first husband, Donald Malcolm, was a fellow New Yorker contributor; the pair lived in Washington, D.C., and then returned to New York. Their daughter, Anne, was born in 1963.

After separating from Donald, Janet Malcolm would marry her New Yorker editor, Gardner Botsford, in 1975. He died in 2004 at age 87.

Malcolm is survived by her daughter and her sister, journalist Marie Winn.

Following the news of her death, many fellow New Yorker contributors shared their feelings about the late writer, as did fans and writers elsewhere:

Janet Malcolm’s “In the Freud Archives” and “The Journalist and the Murderer” are among the greatest works ever published by the New Yorker. RIP

— John Seabrook (@jmseabrook) June 17, 2021

Janet Malcolm influenced my thinking about so many things–journalism, of course, but also editing, psychoanalysis, art, biography. She wrote about seeing the world, and how seeing it changes it.

— Pete Wells (@pete_wells) June 17, 2021

RIP to a legend, Janet Malcolm. Her collected @NewYorker work (that has been fully digitized) is here. https://t.co/wHhwTWeT1G

— Michael Luo (@michaelluo) June 17, 2021

The great New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm has died. She gave us so much. #RIP

— Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) June 17, 2021

One of those books I come back to again and again. RIP Janet Malcolm. pic.twitter.com/9eqQrzAVMK

— Patrick Radden Keefe (@praddenkeefe) June 17, 2021

RIP Janet Malcolm, a legend.

— Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) June 17, 2021

my writing hero. go read “the silent woman” today. https://t.co/k8drd8y33e

— rachel syme (@rachsyme) June 17, 2021

murió janet malcolm. 💔

— Daniel Alarcón (@DanielGAlarcon) June 17, 2021

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of con man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them…” RIP, Janet Malcolm.

— Maria Konnikova (@mkonnikova) June 17, 2021

Janet Malcolm was a giant of both style and argument. “The Journalist and the Murderer” is rightly required reading for young writers; “In the Freud Archives” and “The Impossible Profession” have been indispensable for me personally. What a legend. pic.twitter.com/5eesvE3dSd

— Moira Donegan (@MoiraDonegan) June 17, 2021

RIP Janet Malcolm. “To read Malcolm remaking the profile is both a lesson for readers (I am learning so much!) and a tacit reproach to fellow practitioners (I am wasting my life!).” https://t.co/jahP5v7f41

— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) June 17, 2021

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible” -Janet Malcolm, what a legend

— Megan Gibson (@MeganJGibson) June 17, 2021

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Tyson Houlding
Tyson Houlding is a 28-year-old associate at a law firm who enjoys walking, writing, and learning new languages. He is creative and bright, but can also be very unfriendly and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian who defines himself as straight. He has a post-graduate degree in law.