From his office in the fifth floor tower of Guyot Hall, home of the Department of Geosciences, John McPhee can look down through two vertical windows and see the office in McCosh Health Center where his father served as a medical doctor for Princeton University Athletics from 1928 until the late 1960s. McPhee, a Ferris Professor of Journalism in Residence, was born and raised in Princeton and attended elementary school at 185 Nassau St., now the home of Princeton’s Program in Visual Arts. A 1953 alumnus, he has taught writing at Princeton since 1975: his course, Creative Nonfiction (originally called Literature of Fact), offered each spring, is open to Princeton sophomores, by application, and limited to 16 students. To date, nearly 450 students have taken the course.
In 1999, the same year he received the Pulitzer Prize for his book Annals of the Former World, McPhee received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching from Princeton. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker for over 50 years, where much of the content of his 32 books originally appeared. His new book on writing, Draft No. 4, was released Sept. 5 (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, McPhee and two former students, authors Joel Achenbach and Robert Wright, will appear in conversation at Labyrinth Books, 122 Nassau St.
These musings are from a June 27 interview.