The New York Review of Books has named Ian Buruma, a frequent and longtime contributor, as its next editor. He steps into the role two months after the death of editor Robert B. Silvers, who, with Barbara Epstein, founded the publication in 1963.
Epstein and Silvers co-edited the publication until Epstein’s death in 2006, when Silver remained as sole editor until shortly before his death. This makes Buruma just the third editor in NYRB’s history, and gives him reign over a publication that has existed throughout its entire history in the image of its creators. Although, according to a statement from publisher Rea Hederman, Buruma was chosen in part because he is expected to adhere to that vision.
“I’ve known Ian since 1985 and know that his long association with the Review will ensure that the values and editorial direction of the Review will be upheld,” said Hederman. “Ian’s long relationship with both founding editors will preserve the editorial quality and independence for which the Review has been known since its first issue in 1963.”
In addition to contributing to NYRB, Buruma has written for a host of other publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times and the Guardian. He is also the Paul W. Williams Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York.
In an interview with Slate’s Isaac Chotiner shortly after Silvers’ death, Buruma told the story of how he first came to write for NYRB, a role that came out of one of his own books being made the subject of a review at the publication:
It was around 1983, and I’d written a book about Japanese popular culture and how the Japanese imagine themselves and so on, and he had it for review. I called him when I was visiting New York, and he asked me to come and see him. He then said to me, “So what can you write about for us?” And that was a question I hadn’t anticipated. So my eyes swiveled around the desk in a panic and I mentioned some book that I had absolutely no authority to review at all. Then I remembered that Donald Keene was publishing an enormous volume on modern Japanese literature, and I said, “Well, what about Donald Keene?”, and he said, “Yes, yes, that sounds very interesting, let’s think about it.”
And I didn’t think about it at all and went back to Hong Kong where I was living and forgot about it really, and thought, well, it’s good to have met the great man and so on. And suddenly a Telex appeared two months later saying, “When can we expect the Keene?” That’s really how it started, then I really was in a panic and had to read two volumes of more than 1,000 pages and produce a piece, and that’s how it began. Then we didn’t look back.
In that same interview he also discussed the origins of a decades-old rumor that had him as the successor to Silvers:
He asked me to come to New York to talk about what he called, literally, he said it in those terms, “long-term plans.” I was then working as an editor for a magazine in Hong Kong, and he said would I be interested in working in the office and perhaps taking some of the weight off Barbara Epstein’s shoulders and so on. Instead of jumping up and down saying, “That’s a chance I’ve always been waiting for,” I said, “Well, of course, that would be a wonderful thing and a great honor, but there’s still a lot I want to write.” I never heard about it since. He put out his feelers, and that was the last I ever heard of this. I think that’s where the rumor began, because I probably told somebody and that got around.
It was a rumor that eventually became the truth.