Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Happy birthday, critic Alfred Kazin

It is the birthday of writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin (1915), whose opinionated prose gave perspective on American literature for decades, and whose autobiographical works gave insight into growing up as a Jewish immigrant in the early part of the 20th century. As a youth, Kazin gazed across the river from his boyhood home in Brooklyn's tough Brownsville neighborhood to Manhattan's lofty towers. As an adult, he marveled privately in journals that he had arrived as one of the New York intellectuals. "I who stood so long outside the door wondering if I would ever get through it, am now one of the standard bearers of American literary opinion—a judge of young men," he wrote. He first achieved success with On Native Grounds (1942), an ambitious study of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and other literary giants. There followed A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1965), New York Jew (1978), and A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment (1996) and a lifetime of reviews, magazine articles, and essays. He died in 1998 on his 83rd birthday.

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