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Alfred Kazin

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Alfred Kazin
Kazin in 1973
Born(1915-05-05)May 5, 1915
Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York City
DiedMay 5, 1998(1998-05-05) (aged 83)
Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City
  • Literary critic
  • writer
  • professor
Spouse(s)Natasha Dohn (divorced)
Caroline Bookman (divorced)
Ann Birstein (1952-1982)
Judith Dunford (1983-1998)
  • Charles Kazin
  • Gita Fagelman

Alfred Kazin (June 5, 1915 – June 5, 1998) was an American writer and literary critic. His literary reviews appeared in The New York Times, the New York Herald-Tribune, The New Republic and The New Yorker.[1] He wrote often about the immigrant experience in early twentieth-century America.[2] His trilogy of memoirs, A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) and New York Jew (1978), were all finalists for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.[3][4][5]

He was a distinguished professor of English at Stony Brook University of the State University of New York (1963-1973) and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1973-1978, 1979-1985).[6][7]

Early life


He was born to Russian Jewish immigrants in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. His father, Charles Kazin, was a house-painter from Minsk.[6] His mother, Gita Fagelman, was a dressmaker from Russian Poland.[8][9][6] His father was a socialist and acolyte of Eugene V. Debs, while his mother was Orthodox.[10][11] His sister, Pearl Kazin Bell (1922–2011) was also a writer and critic. She was an assistant literary editor at Harper's Bazaar as well as a regular fiction critic for The New Leader, Partisan Review and Commentary.[12][8][1]

He graduated from Franklin K. lane High School and the City College of New York.[2] However, his politics were more moderate than most of the New York Intellectuals, many of whom were socialists. He rejected Stalin early on.[1] In 1934, he got an early break reviewing books for The New Republic.[13] The opportunity came about after he visited The New York Times office that summer to express his disagreement with a book review published by the newspaper that was written by John Chamberlain.[13] Chamberlain met with Kazin and was impressed by his arguments and recommended him to editors at The New Republic.[13] He also graduated with an MA from Columbia University in 1938.[14][15]



Kazin was deeply affected by his peers' subsequent disillusion with socialism and liberalism.[16] Adam Kirsch writes in The New Republic that "having invested his romantic self-image in liberalism, Kazin perceived abandonment of liberalism by his peers as an attack on his identity".[16]

In 1942, at the age of 27, he published his first book, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. Orville Prescott of The New York Times wrote: "With "On Native Grounds" he takes his place in the first rank of American practitioners of the higher literary criticism."[17]

In 1951, he wrote the acclaimed memoir, A Walker in the City, where he details his childhood in the Jewish milieu of Brownsville in Brooklyn. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1952.[3] The subsequent sequels, Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) and New York Jew (1978) were also finalists for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.[4][5]

He wrote out of a great passion—or great disgust—for what he was reading and embedded his opinions in a deep knowledge of history, both literary history and politics and culture. In 1996 he was awarded the first Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award in Literary Criticism, which carries a cash award of $100,000.[18] As of 2014, the only other person to have won the award was George Steiner.[19]

In 1963 he became a distinguished professor in the English Department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.[20] He stayed at Stony Brook for ten years before taking up distinguished professor positions at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1973–1978, 1979–1985).[6][20]

Personal life


Kazin was friends with Hannah Arendt.[21]

Kazin's son from his second marriage is historian and Dissent co-editor Michael Kazin.[22] Alfred Kazin married his third wife, the writer Ann Birstein, in 1952, and they divorced in 1982; their daughter is Cathrael Kazin.[22] Prior to his death, Cathrael had made Aliyah to Israel.[8] She is an attorney and education specialist[23]

Kazin married a fourth time, and is survived by his widow, the writer Judith Dunford.[2]



Kazin died at his home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York, on his 83rd birthday in 1998.[2] At his request, he had a small funeral ceremony. He was cremated and did not have a Jewish service. However, his son, Michael, said Kaddish.[8] A year later, Michael and his step-mother, Judith scattered his ashes in the East River.[24]


Library Walk New York City, excerpt from New York Jew


  • On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature (1942)
  • The Open Street (1948)
  • A Walker in the City (1951)
  • The Inmost Leaf: Essays on American and European Writers (1955)
  • Contemporaries: Essays on Modern Life and Literature (1963)
  • Starting Out in the Thirties (1965)
  • Bright Book of Life: American Novelists and Storytellers from Hemingway to Mailer (1973)
  • New York Jew (1978)
  • The State of the Book World, 1980: Three Talks (1980), with Dan Lacy and Ernest L. Boyer
  • An American Procession: The Major American Writers from 1830 to 1930—The Crucial Century (1984)
  • A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature (1988)
  • Our New York (1989), co-authored with David Finn
  • The Emmy Parrish Lectures in American Studies (1991)
  • Writing Was Everything (1995)
  • A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment: From the Journals of Alfred Kazin (1996)
  • God and the American Writer (1997)
  • Alfred Kazin's America: Critical and Personal Writings (2003), edited and with an introduction by Ted Solotaroff
  • Alfred Kazin's Journals (2011), selected and edited by Richard M. Cook

Editor (selected)

  • The Portable Blake The Viking Press, 1946, reprinted many times between 1959 and 1975; Penguin Books 1976, reprinted 1977, ISBN 0140150269
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work
  • The Stature of Theodore Dreiser, co-edited with Charles Shapiro
  • Emerson: A Modern Anthology, co-edited with Daniel Aaron
  • The Works of Anne Frank, co-edited with Ann Birstein
  • The Open Form: Essays for Our Time
  • Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne


  1. ^ a b c Brownsville Boy The Forward. 20 February 2008
  2. ^ a b c d Wilborn Hampton (6 June 1998). "Alfred Kazin, the Author Who Wrote of Literature and Himself, Is Dead at 83". The New York Times. p. B 9. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b A Walker in the City National Book Foundation. Retrieved on 1 February 2024
  4. ^ a b Starting Out in the Thirties National Book Foundation. Retrieved on 5 February 2024
  5. ^ a b New York Jew National Book Foundation. Retrieved on 5 February 2024
  6. ^ a b c d Obituary: Alfred Kazin The Independent. 28 June 1998
  7. ^ Talking with Alfred Kazin The Washington Post. 6 May 1984
  8. ^ a b c d Alfred Kazin’s Last Steps Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 16 June 1998
  9. ^ Garner, Dwight (26 May 2011). "A Lifetime of Anxiety and Lust". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  10. ^ In the Capital of Words The New Yorker. 14 June 1998
  11. ^ Outsider Artist Bookforum. February/March 2008
  12. ^ Paid Notice: Deaths BELL, PEARL KAZIN The New York Times. 15 June 2011
  13. ^ a b c That Mean, Fermenting Decade The New York Times. 24 October 1965
  14. ^ Remarkable Columbians Columbia University. Retrieved on 5 February 2024
  15. ^ ALFRED KAZIN DIES AT 83 The Washington Post. 6 June 1998
  16. ^ a b Kirsch, Adam (26 October 2011). "The Inner Clamor". The New Republic (review of Alfred Kazin's Journals). Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  17. ^ Books of the Times The New York Times. 30 October 1942
  18. ^ "First Capote Award Goes to Alfred Kazin". The New York Times. 10 January 1996. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Alfred Kazin Papers – Overview". New York Public Library. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  20. ^ a b Alfred Kain's Journals JSTOR. 2011
  21. ^ Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth (2004), Hannah Arendt. For Love of the World, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, pp. 263, 360
  22. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (May 29, 2017). "Ann Birstein, Memoirist and Novelist, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  23. ^ Materials Indiana Commission for Higher Education. 13 February 2014
  24. ^ MY CITY; Crossing to the Great Beyond via the Brooklyn Bridge The New York Times. 23 July 1999