Bill Keller sent out a 384-word memo this morning announcing that William Grimes will become the new obit writer for the paper.
Here’s the memo:
To the Staff:
There are some bylines that are, by general acclamation, must reads. William Grimes is one. No matter the subject, no matter the headline, Biff’s name atop a column of type is enough to encourage a reader to take the plunge. It’s a byline that carries a signature, a blend (or call it a cocktail — Biff wrote a book about drinks) of gentle wit, graceful style
and wide-ranging erudition.
For vast numbers of readers, New York Times obituaries are also must reads, with their own signature, a heady blend of journalism and biography, of spot news and interpretive writing — a form ideal for a writer of wit, style and erudition. A writer like, well, Biff Grimes.
You know where this is going: Starting very soon, Biff Grimes will put down his book critic’s pen and take up the work of obituarist, bringing to that hallowed tradition the enormous talent he’s demonstrated for 19 years at The Times under a succession of guises — magazine writer, culture reporter, theater columnist and restaurant critic before turning to book reviewing in 2004. There was also an interesting interlude as what we called, for lack of a better title, “thing critic,” in which Biff applied his critical gifts to theme park rides, caffeinated energy drinks and home-cleaning robots.
No matter the role, Biff has opened up worlds for readers — theater and film, art and music, food and drink, and even the life and times of a certain celebrated chicken. In some ways he’ll continue to explore those worlds (with the possible exception of his Queens backyard, where that chicken took up residence). Only now he’ll be writing about culture and style and politics and music and who knows what else through the prism of
biography, through the lives and times of the most interesting and influential people of our age.
"Oases of calm in a world gone mad," is how Russell Baker, himself no slouch at the form, described the obits. "Stimulants to sweet memories of better times, to philosophical reflection, to discovery of life’s astonishing richness, variety, comedy, sadness, of the diverse infinitude of human imagination it takes to make this world. What a lovely part of the paper to linger in."
I’m confident that Biff will make it lovelier still. More must reading TK.