Throughout her 34-year tenure as a book critic for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani has been a powerful guiding force in the publishing industry, both beloved and feared as she launched the careers of some authors and savagely eviscerated others. Positive reviews from Kakutani helped anoint David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, and Zadie Smith as literary darlings, while Jonathan Franzen called Kakutani “the stupidest person in New York City” after she slammed his 2006 memoir as “an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed.” She would later give his 2010 novel Freedom a positive review.
Now Kakutani is stepping down from her role as chief book critic at The New York Times, according to the paper itself. Kakutani, who joined the NYT in 1979, became a book critic in 1983, and won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1998, is not quitting journalism altogether, but says on Twitter that she wants to “focus on longer pieces about politics & culture, though I will always love & write about books.” In recent years, Kakutani has turned her attention more towards politics, writing a review of Volker Ullrich’s biography of Hitler that could easily be read as a takedown of Donald Trump and interviewing Barack Obama during his last days in office.
She voluntarily took a buyout as part of a plan to free up budget at the paper for additional on-the-ground reporters, Vanity Fair reports, and is the highest-profile NYT employee to do so so far. “She has been one of our signature writers,” NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a memo to his staff about Kakutani’s departure. “It is hard to imagine the story of the modern New York Times without a hefty chapter bearing her name.”