Lillian Ross, longtime New Yorker writer, dead at 99

Lillian Ross in New York's Central Park, June 10, 1997.

JOE TABACCA

Lillian Ross, a writer who pioneered a now-familiar style of narrative journalism over nearly seven decades at the New Yorker, died on Wednesday in New York. She was 99.

Ross died of a stroke in Manhattan, according to The New York Times.

Ross joined the New Yorker in 1945, 20 years after the magazine's founding. Over the ensuing years, Ross became known for her profiles of figures like Ernest Hemingway and her "Talk of the Town" columns. Her work was considered a precursor to the "new journalism" movement of the 1960s.  

Her five-part series about John Huston's film "The Red Badge of Courage" was subsequently expanded into the book "Picture," which was hailed by one reviewer as "the best book on Hollywood ever published," the Times reports.

Her Hemingway profile, entitled "How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?", appeared in the New Yorker in 1950 and became an instant classic. The two remained friends after the piece appeared, with Hemingway writing a blurb for "Picture."

"I wrote a long profile about him in the New Yorker, and after it appeared, I didn't understand why some people were almost deliriously censorious about the way Hemingway talked and the way he enjoyed himself and the way he was openly vulnerable," Ross told NPR in 2006.

Ross carried on a long-time romantic relationship with the magazine's fabled editor William Shawn, which she revealed in a 1998 memoir that elicited fierce blowback from some former colleagues. Shawn, who was married over the course of their four-decade romance, had died six years before Ross published "Here But Not Here: A Love Story," but his widow was still alive. Shawn's former deputy wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the memoir was "a deeply hurtful, self-indulgent, tasteless book that never should have been written at all."

Ross continued to contribute pieces to the New Yorker until 2012, when her final piece — a blog post about close friend J.D. Salinger — appeared on its website.   

In 2001, the New Yorker asked Ross what advice she would give young journalists hoping to follow in her footsteps.

"Be interested in your subject, not in yourself. Listen carefully, with your own ears; don't turn over the job to a tape recorder to listen for you. Be accurate, honest, responsible. Do homework and be prepared," she said. "Try to be original by following your own instincts, your own ideas, your own thinking. Find the humor in everything you see or hear or feel. If you have anything to say, about the world, about life, look for a way to say it without making a speech. Have a baby before you reach forty."