Wyatt Williams writes:
In the winter of 1965, an ambitious writer met with William Shawn, the famously autocratic editor of the New Yorker, to discuss his next story. After some considerable effort, the young man had published an expansive profile of a basketball star in the January 23 issue of the magazine. While going over final proofs of that story with Shawn, he had even talked his way into a job as staff writer. But now they couldn’t agree on the writer’s next assignment. The writer would suggest subject after subject only to be told that the idea had already been reserved for another writer or that Shawn wasn’t interested in it. This is the moment, as the story goes, when John McPhee finally just said, “Oranges.”
According to the version he told in an interview with the Paris Review decades later, “That’s all I said—oranges. I didn’t mention juice, I didn’t mention trees, I didn’t mention the tropics. Just—oranges. Oh yes! Oh yes! [Shawn] says. That’s very good. The next thing I knew I was in Florida talking to orange growers.” (…)
Take a random survey of nonfiction writers today—published or unpublished, successful or emerging—and you will invariably hear some opinion, if not three, about McPhee’s career and influence. Lately my inbox is full of them.