Jean Stein, 1934–2017

Photo: Brigitte LaCombe

We were heartbroken to learn that Jean Stein, the writer and editor who chronicled the venal underside of celebrity, has died at eighty-three. Stein led a storied life. When she was still a teenager, she interviewed William Faulkner, an exchange that appeared in this magazine in 1956. By the time she was in her early twenties, she’d earned a spot on The Paris Review’s masthead as an editor; not long after, she worked with Clay Felker, of Esquire. With George Plimpton, she edited Edie: American Girl, an oral history of Edie Sedgwick; an excerpt appeared in the Review’s Summer 1980 issue. The pair also edited American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy

Later, with her friend the curator Walter Hopps, Stein edited Grand Street, one of our favorite literary magazines, known not only for its discernment in literature but for its engagement with the visual arts. She ran the magazine, which had been founded by Ben Sonnenberg, out of her capacious apartment from 1990 until 2004. “I am very interested in these different worlds coming together, so you’re not only writing, you’re not only art, you’re not only science, you’re bringing them all together,” she told The Los Angeles Times in an interview to mark her first issue. “And, in a way, I’ve lived my life in New York that way. I’m probably one of the very few people who brings people from different worlds to have evenings at home. So it’s a natural.”

Last year Stein published West of Eden, an oral history of Los Angeles, full of myth and rancor and especially desolation. Focusing on just five addresses, including the Dohenys’ fabled Greystone Mansion and Jack Warner’s Beverly Hills monstrosity, the book’s chorus of voices excavated a story of L.A. buried for decades in the city’s foundations, obscured by those who insist on marketing the place as paradise. The New York Times Book Review praised it for offering “a glimpse of what seems like deep truth”—words that could describe the whole of Stein’s career. She will be missed.

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