About Stephen

Stephen Koch left the Midwest and arrived in New York City on the night John Kennedy was nominated to be president of the United States. The latter event not only marked a new phase in American history, but also in the writer’s life. He has lived and worked in New York since that night. He began to suspect that he ought to become a writer at the age of eleven. By twelve, he was certain of it.

Koch is the author of two novels and five books of nonfiction, ranging from history to literary history and a handbook on creative writing called The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. His most recent book is Hitler’s Pawn – The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust  about the life of a Jewish teenager who in 1938 assassinated a minor German Diplomat and gave Hitler his pretext for Kristallnacht, and had worldwide repercussions in the lead up to the second World War.

Koch has steadily written essays and reviews about literature, art, and the cultural scene. One of his books, Stargazer – The Life, World, and Films of Andy Warhol, is now regarded as a classic discussion of Warhol’s films, art and sensibility. 

Koch was born and raised in southern Minnesota and though he would never consider living in any other city than New York, he is sensitive about being a Midwesterner and is irritated by people who make fun of the flyover states.

The rightness of things is generally revealed in retrospect, and you’re unlikely to know in advance what is right and wrong in a story that has not yet been written.

 

—Stephen Koch

Early Life

Stephen Koch is a writer and teacher born (May 8, 1941) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He grew up in the college town of Northfield, Minnesota, the site of Carleton and Saint Olaf Colleges, where his father was a local lawyer.

 

Koch’s childhood was spent in Northfield. Koch’s father, Robert Fulton Koch, died of complications of a rheumatic heart in 1951, when Stephen was ten. Stephen grew up in a middle-class home with his mother Edith Koch; his brother, the physicist Frederick Koch, and his maternal grandmother, Emma Pilling Bayard, a classic daughter of midwestern pioneers, who died at an advanced age when Koch was 16.

During Koch’s education in Northfield’s public schools, theater and writing absorbed him. Pre-teen, puppetry was his obsession; later, he was active in school theatricals. He became determined to be a writer around the age of 12.

After high school, Koch enrolled in the University of Minnesota, where he was a student from June 1959 until June 1960. In the summer of 1960, he moved to New York with the woman who became his first wife, Sheila Helen Shulman. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the City College of New York in 1963, and in 1964 took an MA in English and briefly pursued doctoral studies at Columbia University. Koch and Sheila Shulman were divorced in 1965. In 1987, he married Frances Cohen, a physician and psychiatrist. They have one daughter: Angelica Madeline Koch. Koch is bisexual and has had significant liaisons with people of both sexes.

Though he never desired an academic career, Koch was an instructor in the Department of English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1965 – 1970. Yet in 1964, Koch had begun to write and publish literary essays and reviews, ignoring his academic work. When his writing came to the attention of Susan Sontag, he became her protege, and through Sontag his career was launched. His writing appeared prolifically for The Nation, The New Republic, Partisan Review, Esquire, and many other publications.

Pivotal Moments

1970

Koch published his first novel, Night Watch (Harper and Row). The novel was warmly reviewed in major publications in America, England, and Europe, and significant coverage in venues such as Life magazine and on PBS television.

1972-1973

Koch wrote and appeared as the on-camera host of Eye-to-Eye, a nationally broadcast PBS television series about art. Immediately after completing Eye-to-Eye, Koch wrote Stargazer, a book about Andy Warhol, which has remained in print since its publication in 1973 and is often cited as a critical classic.

1975-1986

After publishing Stargazer, Koch continued to write prolifically on literature and art. Among his essays from this period are “The Spirit of Soho” (Esquire, April 1975), “The Guilty Sex: Man and Feminism” (Esquire, 1975), “Guilt, Grace and Robert Mapplethorpe” (Art in America, November 1986), “The Secret Kafka” (The New Criterion, January 1984), translated into French as “Kafka Secret” (L’Infini, Autumn 1985), and “Caravaggio and the Unseen” (Antaeus, 1986).

1977-1995

Koch teaches creative writing at Columbia University. Between 1988 and 1994, he served as the chair of the graduate Writing Division in the School of the Arts at Columbia. His students have included some of the most noteworthy young writers of two generations.

1978-1984

Koch teaches creative writing at Princeton University

1988-1994

Photographer Peter Hujar died as a victim of the AIDS pandemic, he named Koch as the executor of his entire artistic estate. Since then, Koch has worked to usher Hujar’s work out of an esoteric cult following into what he regards as its rightful prominence in twentieth century art. In Harper’s magazine, April 2018, Koch published an essay describing these efforts: “The Pictures”s.”

1987

In 1986, Koch published his second novel, The Bachelors’ Bride, (Marion Boyars) about the life and death of a major artist of the sixties. By a strange quirk, shortly before his death in 1987, Warhol himself told an interviewer that he wanted to make a movie based on The Bachelors’ Bride.

1994

Koch published Double Lives, a study of Comintern propaganda.

2003

Koch consolidated his experience teaching writing in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (Random House).

2007

Koch published The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, the Murder of Jose Robles. (Counterpoint).

2017

A retrospective of  Peter Hujar’s work, curated at the Morgan Library in New York, travelled to major venues in Europe and the United States. By then, the critical consensus numbered Hujar among the great American photographers.

2019

Koch’s most recent book is Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust

Pivotal Moments

1970

Koch published his first novel, Night Watch (Harper and Row). The novel was warmly reviewed in major publications in America, England, and Europe, and significant coverage in venues such as Life magazine and on PBS television.

1972-1973

Koch wrote and appeared as the on-camera host of Eye-to-Eye, a nationally broadcast PBS television series about art. Immediately after completing Eye-to-Eye, Koch wrote Stargazer, a book about Andy Warhol, which has remained in print since its publication in 1973 and is often cited as a critical classic.

1975-1986

After publishing Stargazer, Koch continued to write prolifically on literature and art. Among his essays from this period are “The Spirit of Soho” (Esquire, April 1975), “The Guilty Sex: Man and Feminism” (Esquire, 1975), “Guilt, Grace and Robert Mapplethorpe” (Art in America, November 1986), “The Secret Kafka” (The New Criterion, January 1984), translated into French as “Kafka Secret” (L’Infini, Autumn 1985), and “Caravaggio and the Unseen” (Antaeus, 1986).

1977-1995

Koch teaches creative writing at Columbia University. Between 1988 and 1994, he served as the chair of the graduate Writing Division in the School of the Arts at Columbia. His students have included some of the most noteworthy young writers of two generations.

1978-1984

Koch teaches creative writing at Princeton University

1988-1994

Photographer Peter Hujar died as a victim of the AIDS pandemic, he named Koch as the executor of his entire artistic estate. Since then, Koch has worked to usher Hujar’s work out of an esoteric cult following into what he regards as its rightful prominence in twentieth century art. In Harper’s magazine, April 2018, Koch published an essay describing these efforts: “The Pictures”s.”

1987

In 1986, Koch published his second novel, The Bachelors’ Bride, (Marion Boyars) about the life and death of a major artist of the sixties. By a strange quirk, shortly before his death in 1987, Warhol himself told an interviewer that he wanted to make a movie based on The Bachelors’ Bride.

1994

Koch published Double Lives, a study of Comintern propaganda.

2003

Koch consolidated his experience teaching writing in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (Random House).

2007

Koch published The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, the Murder of Jose Robles. (Counterpoint).

2017

A retrospective of  Peter Hujar’s work, curated at the Morgan Library in New York, travelled to major venues in Europe and the United States. By then, the critical consensus numbered Hujar among the great American photographers.

2019

Koch’s most recent book is Hitler’s Pawn: The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust

All of Stephen Koch’s books have been translated into various languages.

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