Stephen L. Carter has helped shape the national debate on issues ranging
from the role of religion in American political culture to the impact of integrity and civility on our daily lives. The New York Times has called
him one of the nation's leading public intellectuals.
Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen L. Carter studied law at Yale University and went on to serve as a law clerk, first on the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia, and later for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
In 1982 he joined the faculty at Yale, where he is now William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. His critically acclaimed nonfiction books on subjects including affirmative action, the judicial confirmation process, and the place of religion in our legal and political cultures have earned Carter fans among luminaries as diverse as William F. Buckley, Anna Quindlen, and former President Bill Clinton.
Carter's first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, draws heavily on the author's familiarity with the law and the world of highly placed judges, but he didn't begin by attempting to write a "judicial" thriller -- Carter earlier tried the character of Judge Garland out as a White House aide, and also as a professor like himself. He has said that in the end "only the judicial role really fit."
With Emperor Carter has moved (for the moment) from writing nonfiction to fiction -- a shift which he downplays by noting "I have always viewed writing as a craft." But, while he has also indicated that another novel like this one is in the works, he sees himself as "principally a legal scholar and law professor" and plans to continue publishing nonfiction as well.
Good to Know
Back to Top
An avid chess player, Stephen L. Carter is a life member of the United States Chess Federation. Although he says he plays less now than he once
did, he still plays online through the Internet Chess Club. For The Emperor of Ocean Park, Professor Carter says he had to learn about "the world of the chess problemist, where composers work for months or years to set up challenging positions for others to solve."
Carter lives with his wife, Enola Aird, and their two children, near New Haven, Connecticut.
Back to Top
Stephen L. Carter took a few moments to answer some of our questions about books and life.
What is the book that most influenced your life?
I would have to say the Bible, especially as I began to read theology and philosophy in a serious way. The Bible has changed my life.
Tell us about some of your favorite fiction titles.
How about nonfiction?
- Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, for the sheer beauty of the prose and the seamless integration of metaphor into the story. Rarely have I encountered such remarkable characterizations and settings. And, oh, how deft her touch with dialogue!
- F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Simply put, one of the greatest novels ever written in English. Bringing an era to life and offering a withering critique without preaching at us. Marvelous characters, engaging story, and in so small a package.
- James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain. A novel of immense passion and power, taking seriously the Christianity of its characters but presenting them as complex and flawed as he cuts back and forth across their stories. Just stunning. I am not sure I have read a finer inter-generational story.
- E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime. Whether you think it is just a good read or, as some think, a novel-length metaphor for the '60s, a wonderfully evocative tale of a hundred years back, set in a time of great social flux, told in a prose so compelling that it is difficult to find a place to stop for breath.
- Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. I read this in college, before it became a standard text for high schoolers, and its power nearly wore me out. No finer story, in my experience, of the conflict between traditional society and the modern world, with the possible exceptions of two others I rather like: Death and the King’s Horseman, by Wole Soyinka, and, more recently, The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
- George Orwell's 1984. I have never read another novel that provides more food for thought, or more text for discussion. And as scary as they come.
- Stephen King's Christine. Few people would probably rank this as King’s best, but I think that it creates as fully realized an adolescent world as one is likely to find in popular fiction. One of the few contemporary novels I find worth going back to again and again to learn more.
- John le Carré's Smiley’s People and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The two modern masterpieces of the espionage genre, both by the same author.
- I suppose I could add some mystery writers, such as Sue Grafton and Agatha Christie.
- Plato's The Republic. You may not agree with him, but he is impossible to dismiss and, in the end, you can’t help nodding a lot and saying, “You know, he has a point there.”
- Anything by John Keegan, the military historian. Try to picture soldiers a thousand years ago or more, marching off to war with full knowledge that their job was less to fight than to die. Was war more horrible in those days, or less?
- Michael Kammen's A Machine That Would Go of Itself, and Akhil Amar's The Bill of Rights, two of the finest contemporary books written on the American Constitution.
- W. E. B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. Okay, it’s a little dated, but the prose is beautiful, and much that he has to say about race in this collection of essays will strike a chord with the reader who picks it up today, a hundred years after it was written.
- Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. A book more quoted than read, and widely misunderstood even by those who extol its virtues, but still with much to teach us, as well as much to argue with.
- Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. Any page of any volume will repay the effort of reading it. Whether or not the reader is a Roman Catholic, or even a Christian, the intellectual firepower behind the arguments is likely to prove intimidating. Certainly it intimidates me, even when it confuses me.
Anything else you'd like to tell your readers about yourself?
I love to play chess. I love reading history, theology, and ethics. I love spending time with my wife and children. I love studying the Bible. I do not read the newspapers as often as I once did, and news occasionally passes me by.
Oh, and I am a great sports fan, particularly professional football and college basketball.
In the Works
Back to Top
Among other things, a second novel, which pursues the stories of some of the characters from The Emperor of Ocean Park.
Back to Top
|Stephen L. Carter Home
Good to Know
In the Works
|Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, 1991|
|The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion, 1993|
|The Confirmation Mess: Cleaning up the Federal Appointments Process, 1994|
|The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty, 1998|
|Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, 1998|
|God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics, 2000|
|Emperor of Ocean Park, 2002|
|New England White, 2007|