The Washington Post's Richard Cohen to write Nora Ephron biography

We're suppressing a gag reflex over Cohen's new assignment -- a book on the "Sleepless in Seattle" director

Published December 9, 2013 4:30PM (EST)

Richard Cohen         (CNN)
Richard Cohen (CNN)

The late writer and director Nora Ephron is to be memorialized in a biography by an unexpected author -- the controversial Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Ephron, whose work includes beloved films like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally" as well as essay collections like "I Feel Bad About My Neck," defined the concerns and neuroses of generations of American women. Cohen has recently come under fire for claiming that "people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex" when considering New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's marriage to a black woman. Cohen, who is 72, has gotten more explicit over time, but his leitmotif -- as Salon's Alex Pareene put it -- is the "'I am scared of black people' column."

Per the New York Post, Cohen and Ephron were friends; the columnist was the first speaker at her funeral. They'd started, though, as enemies -- Cohen recalled that Ephron had disliked one of his pieces and "turned on me with a cold fury and to a friend standing nearby spit out every one of my offending words — one after another, precisely as I had typed them." Cohen got the blessing of Ephron's family.

Ephron's work generally depicted an upper-class and white milieu of the sort that Cohen describes in his columns, but it's still somewhat shocking she and Cohen were friends; while Ephron got to the heart of the concerns of women both in her romantic comedies and in her essays, Cohen seems to view women, in life and in art, as objects to be wooed and won. It's a credit to Ephron's broad interests and her love for sparring, one supposes, that she was able to maintain a friendship with someone so different. As for coverage of Nora Ephron's life that one can read right now, the New Yorker's Ariel Levy did a brilliant and sensitive profile in 2009.

By Daniel D'Addario

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Nora Ephron Richard Cohen