Writing Was Everything by Alfred Kazin

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Synopsis

For more than sixty years Alfred Kazin has been one of the most eloquent witnesses to the literary life of the mind in America. Writing Was Everything is a summation of that life, a story of coming of age as a writer and critic that is also a vibrant cultural drama teeming with such characters as Hart Crane and Allen Ginsberg, Simone Weil and Flannery O'Connor, Hannah Arendt and Robert Lowell, Edmund Wilson and George Orwell.

A deft blend of autobiography, history, and criticism that moves from New York in the 1930s to wartime England to the postwar South, Writing Was Everything emerges as a reaffirmation of literature in an age of deconstruction and critical dogma. In his encounters with books, Kazin shows us how great writing matters and how it involves us morally, socially, and personally on the deepest level. Whether reflecting on modernism, southern fiction, or black, Jewish, and New Yorker writing or reliving the work of Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, and John Cheever, he gives a penetrating, moving account of literature observed and lived. In his life as a critic, Kazin personifies the lesson that living and writing are necessarily intimate.

Writing Was Everything encapsulates the lively wit and authority of this timeless critic's unmistakable voice. It stands as clear testimony to Kazin's belief that "literature is not theory but, at best, the value we can give to our experience, which in our century has been and remains beyond the imagination of mankind."

 

About Alfred Kazin

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Alfred Kazin, a literary critic and professor of English literature, was born in Brooklyn on June 5, 1915. He was educated at City College and Columbia University. Kazin established his own critical reputation in the mid-1940s with On Native Grounds (1942), a study of American literature. His later work, Bright Book of American Life (1973), is both a recapitulation of modernism and an evaluation of American writers who have achieved prominence since 1945. Modernism, a favorite topic of Kazin, is in his view a literary revolution marked by spontaneity and individuality but lacking in precisely the mass culture appeal necessary to its survival. Contemporaries (1962) includes reflective essays on travel, five essays on Freud, and some very perceptive essays on literary and political matters. The final section, "The Critic's Task," concerns itself with the critic's function within a popular and an academic context and with critical theory and principles. Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) describes Kazin's early years with The New Republic as book reviewer and evaluates his contemporaries in a period when the depression and radical political thought, pro and con, deeply affected literary production. In the midst of the current antihumanistic trend in literary theory, Kazin remains a literary critic of the old school, believing in the relevance of literature to modern life. Alfred Kazin died on June 5, 1998.
 
Published May 26, 1998 by Harvard University Press. 160 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Writing Was Everything

Publishers Weekly

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Reflecting with graceful erudition on literature, litterateurs and his own work, noted critic Kazin (On Native Grounds) offers a distilled summa of his engagements with the word.

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