Kazin, Alfred

Kazin, Alfred
born June 5, 1915, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
died June 5, 1998, New York, N.Y.

U.S. literary critic.

His sweeping historical study of modern American literature, On Native Grounds (1942), won him instant recognition. Much of his criticism appeared in Partisan Review, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. His books include Starting Out in the Thirties (1965), New York Jew (1978), A Writer's America (1988), and God and the American Writer (1997).

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▪ 1999

      American teacher and critic (b. June 5, 1915, Brooklyn, N.Y.—d. June 5, 1998, New York), was considered one of the most eloquent and influential literary critics of the 20th century; his seminal work, On Native Grounds (1942), was a sweeping historical study of modern American literature and set the standard in the field. The son of Russian immigrants, Kazin began his career as a critic in 1934 after a confrontation with a New York Times book reviewer led to a job at The New Republic magazine. It was while attending Columbia University, New York City (M.A., 1938), that he began writing On Native Grounds. Constructed in passionate and simple prose accessible to the general reader, it established Kazin as a perceptive critic with a distinctive point of view. A prolific writer, he contributed reviews and essays to a number of publications, including Harper's, The New Yorker, and Partisan Review, and penned more than a dozen books. His criticism, both severe and generous, also provided insight into the personalities of authors and their motivation to write. Unlike traditional reviewers who concentrated on style and form, Kazin was more concerned with a novel's relationship to the era in which it was written. While the development of American literature was a common topic of his works, Kazin also wrote extensively on New York City and Judaism. His memoirs include A Walker in the City (1951) and New York Jew (1978). In addition, Kazin taught at several universities and edited a number of works.

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▪ American critic and author
born June 5, 1915, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
died June 5, 1998, New York, N.Y.

      American critic and author noted for his studies of American literature and his autobiographical writings.

      The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Kazin attended the City College of New York during the Great Depression and then worked as a freelance book reviewer for The New Republic and other periodicals. At age 27 he wrote a sweeping historical study of modern American literature, On Native Grounds (1942), that won him instant recognition as a perceptive critic with a distinct point of view. The book traces the social and political movements that inspired successive stages of literary development in America from the time of William Dean Howells (Howells, William Dean) to that of William Faulkner (Faulkner, William).

      Kazin's critical viewpoint and liberal political sensibilities were inextricably intertwined. He eschewed close textual or formal analysis, preferring instead to comprehend writers and their works in relation to the larger society and times in which they lived. In a sequel to his first book, Bright Book of Life (1973), he surveyed American literature from the writings of Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway, Ernest) to those of Norman Mailer (Mailer, Norman). Among Kazin's other studies of American literature are the essay collections The Inmost Leaf (1955) and Contemporaries (1962); another broad survey of American prose, An American Procession (1984); and God and the American Writer (1997). He also published book-length studies of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser, edited anthologies of the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and was a visiting professor at various universities.

      Kazin's sketches of literary personalities reveal much about both writers and their eras. He himself wrote three autobiographical works: A Walker in the City (1951), which lyrically evokes his youth in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn; Starting Out in the Thirties (1965), memoirs of his young manhood; and New York Jew (1978), about his life during the years from World War II to the 1970s.

Additional Reading
Richard M. Cook, Alfred Kazin (2007).

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Universalium. 2010.

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