Los Angeles Times Book Review
Writing Was Everythingby Alfred Kazin
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.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Alfred Kazin is our grand old man of letters, supreme keeper of the now-flickering literary flame...Prolific, indefatigable, ambitious on a scale that seems quaint in this day of academic specialization, Mr. Kazin has never been one to bore his readers with detail. He prefers the sprawling canvas, the hard-to-categorize narrative that mingles scholarship and reminiscence, polemic and personal history...One of Mr. Kazin's great strengths as a critic is the sheer passion he brings to his task: from the beginning, his books have been hymns to the centrality of literature, its capacity, as he puts it in Writing Was Everything, to 'make the world shine...In the end, what of [the legacy of Mr. Kazin's generation] will survive? To my mind, the novels of Saul Bellow, a handful of Delmore Schwartz's poems and the urgent, rhapsodic prose of Alfred Kazin.
[Kazin] takes up what it means to practice 'the curious business of being a critic,' which amounts to grappling with the meaning of lifehis and in generaland its relationship to literature. In the course of it, he discusses the writers he has admired and offers sketches of some he has known.
Katherine A. Powers
With his heart simultaneously bursting and broken, [Kazin] has had to ransack through books in search of what he loves but knows he cannot findnot small entertainments and pleasures but 'everything.' Never has a man turned to books with more ardor and hope! And, among the new books that I myself have read this year, his is the one I love the most.
This fabulous genre, memoir and criticism, this Monday morning quarterbacking on history and culture and literature, surely must be the Tiffany watch we allow our lifelong literary critics. The name-dropping, the constellations reconfigured, the slights on which a career is made or broken, could anything be more delicious?...Kazin distills, with grace and sophistication, the nuggets he has carried with him from the great works; from Proust, from Richard Wright, from Simone Weil.
Susan Salter Reynolds
[Kazin's] concerns are those of our bewildered and bewildering times: shrinking hope, the indirection of society and loss of faith...An impressionistic, unashamedly subjective tour of the most important writers of this century, Kazin...writes engagingly and provocatively...Writing Was Everything...[is] one man, a life-long writer and reader, and his views on what matters in literature.
[Writing Was Everything is] satisfying in blending autobiography and literary reflection. Kazin tells his personal story by way to the books and authors that meant most to him...[There is] emotional power [in] Writing Was Everything.
Gives a splendid insight into the mind of this passionate New York intellectual...It is his power to communicate his enthusiasm for a life of reading that gives these lectures their distinction.
Most impressive is Kazin's continuing ability, already evident more than half a century ago, to quickly and convincingly characterize an author and place him or her in the context of the times. His discussions of writers like George Orwell, Edmund Wilson and Flannery O'Connor, to name the most bold and remarkable, reminds us of what literary criticism wasand should be today.
To delight in the dull and feel ecstasy in the presence of the commonplace is very much the privilege of youth. Alfred Kazin has captured more than a patch of that feeling in his short memoir, as he could hardly have done if it had not been there from the beginning.
Robert M. Adams
Over nearly six decades of literary life, Kazin has met and read practically everyone, a fact which Writing Was Everything records in full measure. What remains amazing is the persisting freshness and generosity of his response to literary texts, contemporary thought, events and personalities. Above all, it is his insistence upon the moral implications of his experience that distinguishes his critical sensibility from that shaped by current critical practices...If experience is ever to regain a central place in our critical and theoretical efforts, then Alfred Kazin's work will be one of the most luminous reminders as to how it might be done.
Richard H. King
A list of the best writing on writing published in 1995 would have to include two beautiful little books from Harvard, [Writing Was Everything and Writing and Being]...Elegant...[Kazin offers] rich portraits and fluid sketches of his contemporaries...Kazin's power to blend biography, autobiography, history, and criticism does much more than deliver a coming-of-age story of his country's literature to a nation hijacked by Hollywood and television. It splashes a bucket of cold water on Critical Theory, that academic Goliath now presiding over the legions of philistines who have invaded our nation's colleges and universities...Kazin's and Gordimer's...new books are true criticism, which means they are work of art. Each of them overflows with music that could melt the stars.
James R. Hepworth
Writing Was Everything is drawn from lectures Mr. Kazin delivered at Harvard last year and, like all his work, it is well organized, thoughtful and thought-provoking...[and] concise and brilliant, a combination that few writers think is possible. After discussing authors whose lives and works he has studied, he continues to look ahead, searching for the writer 'who will have the inner certainty to see our life with the eyes of faith, and so make the world shine again.' In that quest is found the reason literature matters.
This is a relaxed and affectionate look back at [Kazin's] career from his early days as a free lance on The New Republic, when the New York Public Library inspired in him, as in so many others, an almost humanly personal affection, and gives account of his meetings with most of the notable American writers of the past half century.
- Harvard University Press
- Publication date:
- William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization Series , #1994
- Product dimensions:
- 5.35(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.65(d)
Meet the Author
Alfred Kazin was Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author and editor of many books, including, most recently, A Writer's America: Landscape in American Literature.
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