Pamela Paul

On this date in 1971, journalist and author Pamela Lindsey Paul was born in New York to Carole and Jerome Paul. Her father was a construction contractor and her mother was an advertising copywriter and, later, editor of Retail Ad World. She has 7 brothers. Her parents divorced when she was 3 or 4.

“Like many other morbid kids with Jewish ancestry, I was drawn to Holocaust reading from the moment I entered adolescence, seeking out the death and torture and deprivation and evil,” Paul said in her 2017 memoir “My Life With Bob.” Bob (short for Book of Books) was her journal detailing all the books she had read since high school and her intense relationship with reading. She lived with her mother on Long Island except for weekends with her father on New York’s Upper West Side.

She enrolled at Brown University in Providence, R.I. As a challenge to herself, she joined the rugby team. “And I joined a gospel choir even though I’m an atheist and I can’t sing. I guess I do have a streak of wanting to put myself in situations that are uncomfortable and challenging and like, can you take it?” (Women’s Wear Daily, April 20, 2021)

After graduation, Paul taught American history at a startup international school in Thailand before taking marketing jobs at Scholastic Inc. and Time Inc. in New York. She then joined fiancé Bret Stephens in London, where she first wrote professionally with a monthly column on global arts in The Economist. 

Her reporting and columns have appeared in numerous notable publications. Her first book, “The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony” (2002), came in the wake of her divorce from conservative journalist Bret Stephens, whom she wed in 1998. A starter marriage was defined as starting before age 30, being childless and ending within five years.

She joined The New York Times in 2011 as a columnist, children’s books editor and features editor. She edited the paper’s Book Review for nine years and as of this writing in 2023 is among its opinion columnists, as is Stephens. She has written eight books, the most recent being “Rectangle Time” and “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet,” both published in 2021.

Paul came under fire in 2023 for defending author J.K. Rowling from allegations of transphobia, “because she has asserted the right to spaces for biological women only, such as domestic abuse shelters and sex-segregated prisons” and for insisting “that when it comes to determining a person’s legal gender status, self-declared gender identity is insufficient.” (The Advocate, Feb. 16, 2023) Rowling also received substantial support from groups traditionally seen as backing women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

Amy Schneider, the first trans contestant on “Jeopardy!” and the highest-winning woman in the show’s history, was a critic: “If certain famous billionaire authors were to advocate for ‘Whites only’ spaces, we’d all see it as the hate speech that it is. But when they advocate for ‘cis only’ spaces, the most powerful newspaper in the country rushes to their defense.” (Schneider tweet, Feb. 16, 2023) 

In a column headlined “I Pledge Allegiance to … My Conscience” (March 16, 2023), Paul praised Marissa Barnwell, 15, a Black honor student grabbed by a South Carolina teacher and shoved against a hall wall for not acknowledging that the Pledge of Allegiance was being recited over a loudspeaker. She’d stopped saying the pledge in third grade. “Don’t you love this country?” the teacher asked.

Something similar happened to Paul in the second grade when she opted out of the pledge, despite being “painfully shy,” and was sent to the principal’s office. “I remember my mother being called and that whatever she said must have appeased them.” The Barnwells are suing the school district for violating the First and Fourteenth amendments. 

PHOTO: Paul at the 2019 Texas Book Festival in Austin; photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation