Zack O’Malley Greenburg '99
After a decade as a Forbes
senior editor, Zack O’Malley Greenburg '99 now covers the business of music at Substack, where he’s writing a twice-weekly newsletter and serializing his fifth book, We Are All Musicians Now
(subscribe for free here
). His other books include the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind
(re-released by Penguin in 2021) and A-List Angels: How a Band of Actors, Artists and Athletes Hacked Silicon Valley
(Little, Brown, 2020). Zack has also written for the New York Times
, Rolling Stone
, Washington Post
, Vanity Fair
, Los Angeles Times
, Sports Illustrated
and the Library of Congress; he's been a source for BBC, NPR, and 60 Minutes
, and a speaker at SXSW, CES, TEDx, Princeton, and Harvard.
Zack played the title role in the 1992 film Lorenzo's Oil; he started his writing career at age 14 as video game reviewer for Boys’ Life. In 2007, he graduated Yale with an American Studies degree and joined Forbes, where he went on to pen over 1,000 stories, including a dozen-plus covers on subjects from Kanye West to Richard Branson to Katy Perry. He has reported on everything from hedge fund schemes to Wu-Tang Clan's secret album, pioneering Forbes’ hip-hop coverage, and helping launch the 30 Under 30 franchise along the way. Zack lives in New York with his wife and cats.
When asked about his time at St. Bernard’s, Mr. Greenburg shared the following. It’s probably not surprising that I learned how to write at St. B’s — from the basics in the early grades to the finer points of crafting an argument as an Upper Schooler — but what may come as a bit of a shock is that I did my first writing about hip-hop at 4 East 98th Street as well. One week in eighth grade, my homeroom won the alligator; I was one of two students tasked with creating a skit in which we would give it away at the following Friday’s assembly. I wish I still had a copy of what I wrote, but all I can remember is that it had something to do with a hypothetical interaction between Ms. Steer (former science teacher) and Puff Daddy (back when he was called Puff Daddy). My rival penned a skit based on Waiting For Godot (because that's what you do in eighth grade at St. B's). Unsurprisingly, Samuel Beckett was selected over Puff Daddy; still, this experience must have instilled in me a certain drive to chronicle the world of hip-hop for a wider audience!
One of my favorite moments was seeing Mr. Austin at an Old Boys dinner a few years before his passing (I was a terrible Latin student, but his Sahara-dry sense of humor made it one of my favorites, as was his annual holiday rendition of "We Three Kings"). As we were catching up, I saw Steve Blum ’66 — the father of two dear college friends of mine — walking up to greet Mr. Austin as well. I quickly realized that he was not only a fellow St. B's grad, but that we'd both had Mr. Austin as a teacher, some 33 years apart (Steve was undoubtedly better at Latin).
St. B’s is a strange and wonderful place. For better and for worse, it’s very different from the real world — be mindful of that. You are not a mediocre student, even if it feels that way sometimes. Make the most of this place and its amazing faculty and staff, though, and you will find yourself grappling with other realities: that most people don’t practice carpentry in kindergarten, read Homer in Middle School, or learn to draw a freehand map of Europe — with capitals and geographic features — from memory in eighth grade.