Over the course of sixty years, Alfred Kazin's writings confronted virtually all of our major imaginative writers, from Emerson to Emily Dickinson to James Wright and Joyce Carol Oates -- including such unexpected figures as Lincoln, William James, and Thorstein Veblen. This son of Russian Jews wrote out of the tensions of the outsider and the astute, outspoken leftist -- or, as he put it, "the bitter patriotism of loving what one knows." Editor Ted Solotaroff hasselected material from Kazin's three classic memoirs to accompany his critical writings. Alfred Kazin's America provides an ongoing example of the spiritual freedom, individualism, and democratic contentiousness that he regarded as his heritage and endeavored to pass on.
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Alfred Kazin was born in Brooklyn in 1915. His first book, On Native Grounds, published in 1942, revolutionized critical perceptions of American literature. It was followed by many more books of essays and criticism, including A Walker in the City and, most recently, Writing Was Everything.
Kazin has taught at Harvard, Smith, Amherst, Hunter College, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In 1996, he received the Truman Capote Literary Trust's first Lifetime Award in Literary Criticism.
Kazin lives in New York City.
Ted Solotaroff is a well-known editor and critic. His first memoir, Truth Comes in Blows, received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. His second, First Loves, was recently published by Seven Stories Press.From Publishers Weekly:
Intended as "a resource, rather than as a monument" this posthumous anthology traces a biographical arc through the work of one of America's finest literary critics, interspersing selections from almost all of his major critical works (On Native Grounds; God and the American Writer; etc.) with the remarkable memoirs published in his middle later years (A Walker in the City; Writing Was Everything; etc.). Few critics lend themselves to such integration, but as Solotaroff's extensive, nuanced introduction explains, Kazin (1915-1998) "wrote less as a literary critic than as a writer possessed by literature as moral testimony and lived history." The collection starts with his childhood in a provincial Brooklyn ghetto, where his work-dogged mother would leave her sewing machine only long enough to gaze briefly and lovingly out of the window at the world, and impoverished friends found transcendence in poetry and politics. Here, too, the teenaged Alfred, having already seized upon Blake and Hemingway, read the Gospel and found in the co-opted figure of "our Yeshua" a fulfillment of Jewish longing and "another writer I could instinctively trust." Then come Kazin's beginnings in the brave new and largely gentile literary world of the '30s; the months spent at the New York Public Library researching the brilliant study of American realism that made his career; the rise and decline of the literary left and the moral disillusionments following the war. The book ends with his canny but troubled assessment of letters in the early 1980s, the end of the American century. Kazin's great faculty as both a critic and a memoirist was his passionate belief in the voice on the page as a means of communicating historical experience. Here is a writer, and a reader, we can trust.
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