Critical Mass

Grace Lichtenstein Remembers “John Leonard, Feminist”


NBCC member Grace Lichtenstein offers these reminiscences of critic John Leonard:

I worked with John when I was a reporter and he was an editor at the New York Times. Here is something many fellow book critics may not know about him:  John was such a believer in equality and such a believer in the women’s movement that upon becoming editor in chief of the NYT Sunday Book Review in the early 1970s he deliberately set about to try to hire more female editors; there was only one on the staff. Among those he interviewed? Toni Morrison. His boss, the Sunday editor, disparaged his quest, saying women were unreliable, and “cried a lot.” John shot back that the department recently had witnessed three heart attacks and a suicide, all men. He publicly defended the women at the paper when we sued the NY Times in the famous class-action sex-discrimination suit that began in 1974 and was settled in favor of the women in 1978. John was one of only two men (the other was his former deputy, John Van Doorn) who was actually deposed in favor of the plaintiffs (us). The full story is told in “The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and The New York Times” by Nan Robertson (Random House, 1992.) I have never forgotten how he stood up for us, and I deeply mourn his passing.—Grace Lichtenstein