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Writing Was Everything

Writing Was Everything

Alfred Kazin

ISBN 9780674962385

Publication date: 04/01/1999

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."


  • 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.

    —James Atlas, New York Times Book Review


  • Alfred Kazin (1915–1998) was Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and author and editor of many books, including A Writer’s America: Landscape in American Literature.

Book Details

  • 160 pages
  • 5 x 7-1/2 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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