“Daphne Merkin puts into words observations that have mystified me forever. Like Milan Kundera, she knows how to get inside the sexual mind without making the reader cringe. There is no one who writes better.”
Daphne Merkin is a novelist and critic who has made a name for herself with her often-unnerving candor and forthright attitude towards issues of family, religion, money, and sex as well as her ability to straddle the High/Low cultural divide. Merkin has been a staff writer for The New Yorker and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine,“T” Magazine, Elle and Tablet. She has written frequently for other publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, the Times Literary Supplement, Travel & Leisure, Departures, and Allure.
Merkin graduated from Barnard College magna cum laude and attended Columbia University's graduate program in English literature. Her first piece of criticism appeared in Commentary when she was twenty-one; in her early 20's she went on to write a bi-weekly book and then film column for The New Leader as well as publishing book reviews in The New Republic (her first fan letter was from Woody Allen) and The New York Times Book Review. After publishing her novel, ENCHANTMENT (the first chapter of which appeared in The New Yorker), Merkin went on to work at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich for five years as a senior editor and then associate publisher. In 1997, she became a staff writer at the New Yorker, where she published book pieces as well as essays on personal and cultural issues, including features on Marilyn Monroe, Courtney Love, and the legacy of Sigmund Freud; she also alternated writing the movie column with Anthony Lane. One of her New Yorker essays, “Trouble in the Tribe”, was chosen for The Best American Essays of 2001, as well as The Best Spiritual Essays.
Merkin is the author of five books: two novels, 22 MINUTES OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) and ENCHANTMENT (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), which won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best new work of fiction based on a Jewish theme; it was reprinted by Picador in July 2020 with a foreword by Vivian Gornick. Her Memoir, THIS CLOSE TO HAPPY: A Reckoning with Depression (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) received a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review. She has also published two collections of essays: DREAMING OF HITLER, Passions & Provocations (1997) and THE FAME LUNCHES: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, The Brontes, and the Importance of Handbags, which was named as a New York Times Notable Book of 2014.
Merkin's work has also appeared in many anthologies, including WOMEN ON DIVORCE: A Bedside Companion; WRITING OUR WAY HOME: Contemporary Stories by American Jewish Writers; SIXTY YEARS OF GREAT FICTION FROM PARTISAN REVIEW; and TESTIMONY: Contemporary Writers Make the Holocaust Personal. More recent anthologies that include her essays are: SURFACE TENSION: Love, Sex and Politics between Lesbians and Straight Women; THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, THE MODERN JEWISH GIRL’S GUIDE TO GUILT, and SUGAR IN MY BOWL: Real Women write about Real Sex.
Among the wide-ranging topics that Merkin has written about for The New York Times Magazine and "T” sections as well as Elle are pieces on fashion, including the designers Dries van Noten, Raf Simons and Stella McCartney; women’s obsessions with their handbags and lip gloss; the concept of "Jolie Laide"; women's fear of aging and the lure of cosmetic surgery; gender issues; and visiting Virginia Woolf's lighthouse in Cornwall and the Bronte sisters' house in Haworth. She wrote a bi-monthly column for the New York Times Magazine called "The Way We Live Now" as well as many profiles, such as ones of the actresses Liv Ullman, Cate Blanchett and Diane Keaton; the psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips; and the writers Alice Munro, Nuala O’Faolain and Tom Stoppard. Her essays have included musings on Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and the general fascination with the Kardashians. She has also written profiles of Taylor Swift for Allure and of Madonna and Martha Wainwright for Elle.
Merkin has taught at The Writing Center at Hunter College, Marymount College, and at the 92nd Street Y. For the past two years, she has been teaching at Columbia University's MFA program and also teaches privately. She has never learned to drive, a failing which she hopes to address one of these days. She lives in New York City with her daughter, where she teachers private writing classes.