He is the author of a humor collection, Municipal Bondage, and of an account of his attempts to become a working actor, Big Kiss, which won a Thurber Prize. His last book was How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They are Still on This Earth), which was named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. In January, 2012, Twelve Books will publish his book about manners, Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That?
He is neither Henry Alford, the 19th century British theologian and hymn writer, nor Henry Alford, the eponym of “the Alford plea,” in which a defendant pleads guilty while still protesting his innocence. However, he has been called “a classicist, firmly in the mold of Wilde, Waugh, and Benchley” (New York Times Book Review), “the Socrates of dilettantes” (Newsweek), and “the beloved investigative humorist” (New York).
Raised in Worcester, Ma., Alford moved to New York City to study film at New York University. After working as a casting director in the film industry in New York for three years, he started sending humorous articles to Spy magazine, where he later got a job as a staff writer.
Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That? is both an essay about the current state of American manners, and a series of quests and forays by which Alford tries to improve those same manners. On the latter front, Alford goes on a national listening tour to determine what bad manners we all perpetrate unwittingly, becomes a tour guide for foreigners visiting New York City, acts as an online etiquette coach for five of his friends, and practices a strange form of social intercourse he calls reverse apologizing. Along the way, he gets advice from etiquette mavens both likely (Miss Manners, Tim Gunn) and unlikely (an army sergeant, a former drug kingpin.)
In How to Live, Alford talks to a variety of people over the age of 70–some famous (Phyllis Diller, Edward Albee, Harold Bloom), some accomplished (a woman who walked across the country in support of campaign finance reform), and some eccentric (a Lutheran pastor who thinks napping is a form of prayer, a retired aerospace engineer who eats food out of the garbage)–in an effort to deduce their hard-won wisdom. Early on in the process, he interviews his mother and step-father, and is the inadvertent catalyst to a dramatic change in their 31 year-long union.
Alford has also been published in anthologies (“Money Changes Everything,” “Disquiet Please: More Humor Writing from The New Yorker,” “Eat, Memory,” “Mirth of a Nation“), hosted a show on VH1 (“Rock of Ages“), and been interviewed by tall, funny men on television (Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien). He lives in New York City. His love of waffles has caused small children to call him Henry Alfun.
(For a more complete biography, see this Wikipedia entry.)
(Photo credit: John Woo)