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Living at NYPL Archives & Manuscripts
Joseph Mitchell

Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996) was a journalist and New Yorker writer. Mitchell was born on a Fairmont, North Carolina farm in 1908 to Averette Nance (A.N.) and Elizabeth Mitchell. Mitchell attended the University of North Carolina from 1925 to 1929. Although he had initially enrolled with the intention to study medicine, he did not receive a degree.

Instead Mitchell left North Carolina in 1929 and moved to New York City to write for the New York Herald Tribune and later the World-Telegram, covering crime and writing profiles. New Yorker founder Harold Ross offered Mitchell a position at the magazine in 1938 and Mitchell became known for his intimate portraits and depictions of New York City people and places including the Fulton Fish Market, McSorley's Old Ale House, and Joe Gould. Despite not publishing after his 1964 profile "Joe Gould's Secret," Mitchell remained on the staff of the New Yorker until his death.

Mitchell's journalistic interests spanned the complexities of New York City life. Mitchell wandered the city, seeking to capture what he could, in both physical and written form, of New York City's ever changing cultural and physical landscape. His profiles often focused on local oddities, eccentrics, and colorful characters, and those on the fringes of society. He was particularly drawn to Lower Manhattan and the Fulton Fish Market. According to several published accounts, Mitchell felt at home in Lower Manhattan, and specifically at the Fulton Fish Market.

Mitchell was active in several organizations and held leadership positions. The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Mitchell a grant in 1965, elected Mitchell to the Academy's Department of Literature in 1970, and in the 1970s Mitchell served as the organization's secretary. As the South Street Seaport transformed from an active port to a museum and historic district, Mitchell served on the South Street Seaport Museum's Advisory Council and Mayor Ed Koch appointed Mitchell to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1982. He was also an active member of the Gypsy Lore Society and held membership in the Century Association. Mitchell was a regular financial donor to a number of non-profit organizations.

Mitchell was married to photographer Therese Mitchell (Therese Dagney Englested Jacobson) from 1931 until her death in 1980. Together they had two daughters, Nora (Sanborn) and Elizabeth. Joseph Mitchell died on April 27, 1996 in New York City.



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