HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

David Yaffe

Author & Professor of Humanities


  • Joni Mitchell
  • Bob Dylan
  • Leonard Cohen
  • The Craft of Songwriting


New York
More Media

David Yaffe is a professor of humanities at Syracuse University and the author of three books: Fascinating Rhythm, Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown, and, most recently, the bestseller Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell.

In this intimate biography, composed of dozens of in-person interviews with Joni Mitchell, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs from her youth on the Canadian prairie, her pre-vaccine bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, up through the quintessential albums and love affairs, and all the way to the present, and shows us why Joni Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends. Reckless Daughter draws on interviews with childhood friends and the cast of famous characters (Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, David Crosby, and more) with whom she has crossed paths and influenced, as well as insightful analyses of her famous lyrics, their imagery and style, and what they say about the woman herself. Reckless Daughter tells the story of Mitchell and also of the fertile, exciting musical time of which she was an integral part, one that had a profound effect that can still be felt today on American music and the industry.

Bringing together his love for music with the stories of music icons and legends, Yaffe passionately delivers his presentations, which are accompanied by musicians to illustrate his message further.

Yaffe’s writings have appeared in many publications, including The New York Review of Books, Harper's, The Nation, Slate, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Village Voice. In 2012, Yaffe won the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

A songwriter and pianist, Yaffe currently resides in Syracuse, New York.

Praise for Reckless Daughter:

“A vivid and dramatic book"
―Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic

“The best chronicle to date of Mitchell’s creative process and the specific way her songs were composed.”
―Rachel Syme, The Nation

"Yet whatever her listeners might dream or desire, Joni Mitchell was never in it for them, and she certainly wasn’t like them: She was a genius. As David Yaffe shows in his new biography, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, to approach her as an open book waiting to be read is to miss the essence of that genius . . . [T]he best full-length treatment of Mitchell yet published . . . [Yaffe] pulls off the feat that has eluded so many of his predecessors: He forges an intimacy with Mitchell on her own, uncompromising terms by truly listening to her, as closely and as generously as she’s always deserved . . ."
―Jack Hamilton, The Atlantic

"Joni Mitchell’s gift was so enormous that it remade the social space around her. As David Yaffe’s new biography, “Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” (Sarah Crichton Books), suggests, it is no small burden to possess something as valuable as Mitchell’s talent, and it meant that this girl from the Canadian prairie would be in the world, whether she liked it or not . . . Yaffe, who teaches at Syracuse, charts these encounters with a sure hand, and is a brilliant analyst of how Mitchell’s songs are made. "
―Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker

"In prose that shifts between chatty, impressionistic and reportorial, Yaffe sympathetically traces the outline of the musician's life, from her childhood battle with polio through her life-threatening aneurysm in 2015. Working his way through her albums, he offers up detailed takes on recording sessions, song tidbits, even chord changes. . . Reckless Daughter looks at Mitchell's life through all sides now."
―David Browne, Rolling Stone

"Yaffe solidly traces the glory and gloom of a musical career that expanded our ears and hearts . . . The lonely girl ill with polio had survived to become a great artist. Yaffe’s books tells us how she got there."
―Sibbie O'Sullivan, The Washington Post

"David Yaffe has crafted a beautiful, heartbreaking, fierce and uncompromising look at one of the greatest artists of the past 50 years . . . a lush, complex, carefully researched examination of one of music's most interesting living legends . . . This is a full portrait of an artist who carved a place for herself in the music industry and managed to walk away from it with more than her dignity fully intact . . . Reckless Daughter will most likely prove to be the best, most comprehensive look at all sides of this powerful and still meaningful, still influential musical and artistic presence."
―Christopher John Stephens, PopMatters

"Dazzling . . . A shimmering portrait of one artist's life, illusions and all."
―Booklist (starred review)

"[Yaffe] brilliantly guides readers through Mitchell’s evolution as a musician with vivid descriptions of the making of each of her albums from Song to a Seagull (“If drums and an electric guitar had been added to the mix, Joni would have produced some acid rock herself”) through Shine in 2007. Yaffe introduces readers to the musicians with whom Mitchell worked, including Leonard Cohen, Graham Nash, Judy Collins, and Charles Mingus. The combination of fine writing and extensive access make this the definitive biography of a gifted songwriter and musician."
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The essential biography of Joni Mitchell."
―Now Toronto

“David Yaffe has composed an abnormally well-written musician biography―descriptive, culturally aware and highly supportive of his subject.”
―David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express

“Reckless Daughter is a bewitched, bothered, and bewildered portrayal of one of the most beautiful and enigmatic artists of a beautiful and enigmatic period of American life. It is touching, mystifying, and revealing in equal parts.”
―Mary Gaitskill

“Joni Mitchell, an artist of innervating and daunting complexity, originality, and importance, could have no better biographer than David Yaffe. He knows the music like the serious musician he is, knows the poetry like the literary scholar he is, and is equally attuned to Mitchell’s tortured soul. On top of all that, he seems to have interviewed everyone important in Mitchell’s life, from her first husband to Leonard Cohen. Reckless Daughter is nothing less than the definitive statement on the life and work of an artist who defies definition.”
―David Hajdu, author of Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

“It’s so easy to get Joni Mitchell wrong, or to leave out the most important things, or to miss the point altogether. Reckless Daughter is the definitive correction to all the errors, a sharp yet sprawling look at one of the most brilliant musical artists of modern times. David Yaffe grasps the nuances―of the music, the poetry, the intellect, the madness. He gets it. He gets her. I couldn’t get enough of this fine biography.”
―Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

“David Yaffe is an artful and incisive critic who writes with such grace and clarity. With Reckless Daughter, he makes a figure as iconic as Joni Mitchell feel wholly new. This portrait is loaded with revelations, both spiritual and actual. I thought I understood something about Mitchell―the way her tough and tender songs move, her sweetness and rebellion―but Yaffe understands everything. What a book.”
―Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records