He is only the third person to hold that position in the magazine's 52-year history, but the second in two years, as the Review has struggled to move on since the death of its original leader, George Plimpton.
"Philip greatly impressed us," Robert Silvers, co-editor of The New York Review of Books, and head of the magazine's search committee, said Thursday in a statement. "He is best known for his brilliant reporting. But he has an intense interest in fiction and fresh ideas for the magazine. His editorship promises to continue the tradition of The Paris Review by surprising us with new writing."
Gourevitch, 43, is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda," which came out in 1998 and won a National Book Critics Circle prize. He has written from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cambodia and many other countries, and is a board member of the writers' organization PEN.
"George (Plimpton) believed that an editor should be strong and decisive and should also be free to give a magazine its character according to his sensibility," Plimpton's widow, Sarah Dudley Plimpton, said in a statement. "And Philip is very inspiring."
Plimpton, who died in September 2003 at age 76, was a legendary figure in the book world, known and loved by countless writers, and was a tireless promoter of the magazine. Gourevitch replaces Plimpton's original successor, Brigid Hughes, whose one-year contract was not renewed amid widely reported conflicts over the magazine's future.
Hughes, who had worked for years on the Paris Review staff, was seen as wanting to maintain Plimpton's tradition of emphasizing poetry, new literary voices and in-depth interviews with major writers. Members of the board of directors have been eager to make the Review more commercial, reportedly wanting more nonfiction and "special" issues dedicated to nonliterary topics such as sports and fashion.
Hughes, who said she plans to start a new literary magazine, said the Review had "many successes" during her year as editor, noting that it had just received a National Magazine Award nomination for best fiction.
"I'm sorry to be leaving this wonderful institution," she said Thursday. "But Philip is a very fine writer, and I wish him the best of luck."
A supporter of Hughes, Paris Review advisory editor Elizabeth Gaffney, said she was "pleasantly surprised" by Gourevitch's selection. "I'm a big admirer of his work and I think he's a wonderful guy," she said.
The Paris Review has published early fiction by Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac and V.S. Naipaul among others and is also known for interviews with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
But profits are not a Paris Review tradition. The celebrated literary quarterly has rarely had more than a few thousand subscribers and has often relied on contributions to keep it going. Plimpton once confided that the magazine's bank balance had dropped to $1.16.
"I'm not coming in to tear it up and make it over," Gourevitch, who ruled out any "fashion" issue, told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I have been given a broad mandate to edit the magazine and to do my best to carry it forward. I want the magazine to do some of the things its always done, like introducing new voices."
Gourevitch did say he wanted to add nonfiction, especially "voice-driven" reporting "you want to read" because of how it's written as opposed to what it's about. He also wants to publish more poems by fewer poets, allowing readers to get more familiar with an individual's work.
Whatever Gourevitch plans, he'll have more time to enact it than did Hughes. Gourevitch said Thursday that he has reached a multiyear deal with the magazine.
"It's a fantastic magazine with a fantastic legacy," he said, adding that readers should not expect him to mimic such Plimptonion adventures as throwing baseballs to Willie Mays or being shot out of a cannon.
"George is irreplaceable. ... I am not a sportsman-participatory journalist like George is. But we'll throw some good parties, certainly."
By Hillel Italie