In his 30-plus years in journalism, John Leland has gone from chronicling youth culture to writing about the “oldest old.” It’s a fitting journey. Given the demographic trends, he writes, “Your elderly parents are the vanguard that your kids think they are.”
After graduating from Columbia College, he wrote freelance for numerous rock and roll magazines, most of which aren’t around anymore, and became one of the first journalists to write regularly about rap music and hip hop culture. Eventually he found more reliable employment at the late lamented New York Newsday and then Newsweek. There he branched out to more general topics, and became one of the magazine’s back-of-the-book editors. After a very brief stint as the editor of Details, he returned to Newsweek as a writer, and then in 2000 moved on to the Times, where he has written for almost every desk at the paper. In 2015, he wrote a year-long series following six people age 85 and up, which became the basis for his new book, “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a year among the oldest old.” As he wrote in the Times about the series and the book, “No work I have ever done has brought me as much joy and hope, or changed my outlook on life as profoundly.”
He is the author of three books: Hip: The History, Why Kerouac Matters, and Happiness Is a Choice You Make, a New York Times bestseller.