Mark Van Doren

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Mark Van Doren
Mark Van Doren (1894 – 1972).jpg
Born (1894-06-13)June 13, 1894
Hope, Vermilion County, Illinois
Died December 10, 1972(1972-12-10) (aged 78)
Torrington, Connecticut
Occupation poet, critic, teacher
Alma mater University of Illinois
Columbia University
Notable works Shakespeare (1939)
A Liberal Education (1943)
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1940 for Collected Poems 1922–1938
Academy of American Poets' Fellowship (1967)
Spouse Dorothy Graffe Van Doren
Children Charles Van Doren
John Van Doren
Relatives Carl Van Doren (brother)

Mark Van Doren (June 13, 1894 – December 10, 1972) was an American poet, writer and a critic, apart from being a scholar and a professor of English at Columbia University for nearly 40 years, where he inspired a generation of influential writers and thinkers including Thomas Merton, Robert Lax, John Berryman, Whittaker Chambers, and Beat Generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He was literary editor of The Nation, in New York City (1924–28), and its film critic, 1935 to 1938.[1]

He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Collected Poems 1922–1938. Amongst his other notable works, many published in The Kenyon Review,[2] include a collaboration with brother Carl Van Doren, American and British Literature since 1890 (1939); critical studies, The Poetry of John Dryden (1920), Shakespeare (1939), The Noble Voice (1945) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1949); collections of poems including Jonathan Gentry (1931); stories; and the verse play The Last Days of Lincoln (1959).

Early life and education[edit]

Van Doren was born in Vermilion County, Illinois the fourth of five sons of the county's doctor, Charles Lucius Van Doren, of remote Dutch ancestry, and wife Eudora Ann Butz. He was raised on his family's farm in eastern Illinois, before his father decided to move to the neighboring town of Urbana, to be closer to good schools.[3]

He was the younger brother of the academic and biographer Carl Van Doren, starting with whom all his five brothers attended the local elementary school and high school. He eventually studied at the University of Illinois in Urbana,[3] where he earned a B.A. in 1914. In 1920, he earned a Ph.D. from what became the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University.

Career[edit]

Van Doren joined the Columbia University faculty in 1920, having been preceded by his brother Carl. Mark Van Doren went on to become one of Columbia's greatest teachers and a "legendary classroom presence"; he became a full professor in 1942, and taught English until 1959, at which point he became Professor Emeritus until his death in 1972 [4] His students at Columbia included the poets and writers John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Louis Simpson, Richard Howard, Lionel Trilling (later a colleague), Robert Lax, Anthony Robinson, as well as the Japanologist and interpreter of Japanese literature Donald Keene, author and activist Whittaker Chambers,[5] writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Walter B Pitkin Jr and poet-critic John Hollander.[4][6]

"I have always had the greatest respect for students. There is nothing I hate more than condescension—the attitude that they are inferior to you. I always assume they have good minds."

Mark Van Doren (Newsweek, 1959) [4]

He twice served on the staff of weekly The Nation from 1924-1928 and again from 1935-1938.[7] He was a member of the Society for the Prevention of World War III.

In 1940, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Collected Poems 1922–1938.[8] This came only a year after, his elder brother Carl had won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for Benjamin Franklin.[9] Van Doren helped Ginsberg avoid jail time in June 1949 by testifying on his behalf when Ginsberg was arrested as an accessory to crimes carried out by Herbert Huncke and others, and was an important influence on Merton, both in Merton's conversion to Catholicism and Merton's poetry. He was a strong advocate of liberal education, and wrote the book, Liberal Education (1943), which helped promote the influential "great books" movement.[10] Starting 1941, he also did Invitation to Learning, a CBS Radio show, where as one of the experts he discussed great literature.

He was made a Fellow in American Letters of the Library of Congress and also remained president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[11][12]

Personal life[edit]

Mark Van Doren married novelist and the writer of memoir, The Professor and I (1959), Dorothy Graffe Van Doren in 1922, whom he had earlier met at The Nation. His successful book, Anthology of World Poetry, enabled the couple to buy a house on Bleecker Street in New York City in February 1929, before markets collapsed.[6]

Their son, Charles Van Doren (born February 12, 1926), briefly achieved renown as the winner of the rigged game show Twenty One. In the film Quiz Show (1994), Mark Van Doren was played by Paul Scofield,[13][14] who earned an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance.[15] Their second son is John Van Doren who also lives in Cornwall, Connecticut, at the farmstead where their father did most of his writing between academic years, and where he moved after retirement.[6]

Mark Van Doren died on December 10, 1972, in Torrington, Connecticut, aged 78, two days after undergoing surgery for circulatory problems at the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. He was interred at Cornwall Hollow Cemetery in Connecticut.[16] Lion: A Memoir of Mark Van Doren (1991), by Dan Wakefield won the 1992 Cohen Awards.

Legacy[edit]

His correspondence with Allen Tate is at Vanderbilt University.[17] Since 1962, students of Columbia College have honored a great teacher at the school each year with the "Mark Van Doren Award".[4]

The Canadian alternative rock band "Our Lady Peace" named themselves in honor of Mark Van Doren's poem of the same name.

Bibliography[edit]

Poetry:

  • Spring Thunder (1924)
  • An Anthology of World Poetry (1928)
  • Jonathan Gentry (1931), (Editor)
  • The Oxford Book of American Prose, (OUP), (1932)
  • Winter Diary (1935)
  • Collected Poems 1922–1938 (1939), Winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
  • The Mayfield Deer (1941)
  • Selected poems (Holt), (1954)
  • The Last Days of Lincoln, a play in six scenes (1959), a Verse Play
  • Our Lady Peace
  • The Story-Teller (N/A)
  • Collected and New Poems 1924–1963 (1963)
  • Mark Van Doren: 100 poems. Hill and Wang. 1967. 

Novels:

  • The Transients (1935)
  • Windless Cabins (1940)
  • Tilda (1943)

Short story collection

  • Nobody Say a Word (1954)

Nonfiction:

Discography:

Reviews[edit]

This well-edited, attractive selection (about one-fourth of the surviving letters) brings Mark Van Doren alive, especially to those who knew him and can hear the voice behind the written words. It should help criticism begin to engage the works and personality of a very considerable American "man of letters:" superb poet and critic, wide-ranging editor, accomplished storyteller and playwright, and devoted educator.[18]

Quotes[edit]

  • "The literature of the world has exerted its power by being translated." [19]
  • "Nothing in man is more serious than his sense of humor; it is the sign that he wants all the truth." [20]
  • "The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery." [20]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mark Van Doren Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ "History" the Kenyon Review Web site, accessed January 26, 2007
  3. ^ a b Mark Van Doren: Collected and New Poems University of Pennsylvania
  4. ^ a b c d "Mark Van doren", Columbia 250 - Colombian Ahead of Their Times Columbia University.
  5. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. pp. 164–166, 545. ISBN 0-89526-571-0. 
  6. ^ a b c Mark Van Doren and Shakespeare columbia.edu.
  7. ^ "Author Bios: Mark Van Doren (and articles)". The Nation. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Official listings: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry". Pulitzer Prize. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  9. ^ Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography Official Listings.
  10. ^ "The Beginnings of the Great Books Movement at Columbia". Columbia Magazine. Winter 2001. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  11. ^ Mark Van Doren Profile The New York Review of Books
  12. ^ "Mark Van Doren", Faculty Profiles Columbia University.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 14, 1994). "QUIZ SHOW; Good and Evil in a More Innocent Age". New York Times. 
  14. ^ David Ansen (September 19, 1994). "FALL PREVIEW: MOVIES: When America Lost Its Innocence--Maybe - Robert Redford Takes A Prismatic Look At A Nation Through The Tv Quiz-Show Scandals Of The '50S". Newsweek. 
  15. ^ Mark Van Doren
  16. ^ "Mark Van Doren, 78, Poet, Teacher, Dies". New York Times. December 12, 1972. 
  17. ^ Mark Van Doren Vanderbilt University Library.
  18. ^ "Mark Van Doren's Literary Letters". Virginia Quarterly Review: 756–764. Autumn 1989. 
  19. ^ The Art, Craft, Modes, and Efficacy of Literary Translation Discussed Through the Ages The University of Texas at Dallas - School of Arts & Humanities.
  20. ^ a b Mark Van Doren quotes thinkexist.com.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Essays of Mark Van Doren: (1924-1972) Selected, with an Introduction by William Claire. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

External links[edit]