It’s the birthday of American journalist Jane Kramer (1938) (books by this author), whom Newsweek magazine once called “a writer who combines the skills of a social historian with those of a novelist.” Kramer was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and educated at Vassar and Columbia University. In the early sixties, she began writing on culture for The Village Voice. Those early essays became her first book, Off Washington Square: A reporter looks at Greenwich Village, N.Y. (1963). Her work caught the eye of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and she became a staff writer for that magazine in 1964.
Kramer’s oeuvre varies: she can write evocatively about food, the American militia, and European politics with the same apparent ease. She said, “I do not believe much in sociologies […] It is the triumph of these private people over their public ‘sociology’ that [interests] me.” She became the New Yorker‘s European correspondent (1981), contributing the “Letter from Europe” column. Her dispatches have covered Holocaust museums, wars, the Muslim veil controversy in France, and the election of former Nazi officer Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria in 1986.
Of Waldheim’s election, Kramer wrote: “He learned one gesture for his campaign: whenever he was at a loss for something to say or something to do, he would open his arms in a kind of big, empty welcome. The gesture was automatic, like the movement of a windup toy […] It was clear, once the rumors about him started, that a man with a murky past could easily become president of Austria if he was a victim of Jewish conspiracies, just as a country with a murky past could easily become a democratic republic if it was a victim of Nazism …”