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William Deresiewicz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
William Deresiewicz
Born1964 (age 59–60)
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
OccupationLiterary critic, author, essayist
Alma materColumbia University (BA, MSJ, PhD)

William Deresiewicz (/dəˈrɛzəwɪts/ də-REZ-ə-wits; born 1964)[1] is an American author, essayist, and literary critic, who taught English at Yale University from 1998 to 2008. He is the author of A Jane Austen Education (2011), Excellent Sheep (2014), and The Death of the Artist (2020).

His criticism directed at a popular audience has appeared in The Nation,[2] The American Scholar,[3][4][5][6] The New Republic,[7] The New York Times,[8][9] The Atlantic, and Harper's.[10][11]

Early life and education


Deresiewicz was born in 1964 in Englewood, New Jersey. His father, Herbert Deresiewicz, emigrated from Czechoslovakia and was a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science.[12][13] He grew up in a Jewish home and attended a yeshiva high school. He has described himself as being "thrown out" of the high school and has imagined that he might have been charged with "gross insubordination and incipient atheism".[14]

Deresiewicz received his B.A. in biology and psychology (1985), his master's in journalism (1987), and Ph.D. in English (1998) from Columbia University.[15][16]



In 1998, Deresiewicz joined the faculty of Yale University. He taught courses in modern British fiction, Great Books, Indian fiction, and writing, among other areas.[17] He left academia in 2008 after being denied tenure to become a full-time writer.[18][19] In 2012, he was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing of the National Book Critics Circle.[20]

His All Points blog appeared on the American Scholar website from March 2011 to September 2013.[21]



A Jane Austen Education


In this memoir of a sort, Deresiewicz admits that he was initially resistant to reading 19th-century British fiction. Soon, though, he discovered that Austen’s novels are valuable tools in the journey towards becoming an adult.

Deresiewicz juxtaposes his reading of Jane Austen with insight into his own life. For example, the reader learns about his controlling father, a series of girlfriends that come and go, and the struggles of being raised in a religious household.[22]

"The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" and Excellent Sheep


In the summer of 2008, Deresiewicz published a controversial essay for The American Scholar titled "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education." In it, he criticizes the Ivy League and other elite colleges and universities for supposedly coddling their students and discouraging independent thought. He claims that elite institutions produce students who are unable to communicate with people who don't have the same backgrounds as themselves, noting as the first example his own inability to talk to his plumber. Deresiewicz then uses Al Gore and John Kerry, graduates of Harvard and Yale (respectively), as examples of politicians who are out of touch with the lives of most Americans.[23]

The article became the groundwork for Deresiewicz's book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014).[24] This work had a mixed response. Dwight Garner, writing for the New York Times daily book review, praised it as "packed full of what [Deresiewicz] wants more of in American life: passionate weirdness."[25] He characterized Deresiewicz as "a vivid writer, a literary critic whose headers tend to land in the back corner of the net," one whose "indictment arrives on wheels: He takes aim at just about the entirety of upper-middle-class life in America." Other responses, however, were more critical. In the New York Times Sunday book review, Anthony Grafton conceded that "much of his dystopian description rings true" but argued that "the coin has another side, one that Deresiewicz rarely inspects...Professors and students have agency. They use the structures they inhabit in creative ways that are not dreamt of in Deresiewicz’s philosophy, and that are more common and more meaningful than the 'exceptions' he allows."[26] In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller was critical from another corner, arguing that the "quandaries" Deresiewicz describes are "distinctly middle-class.".[27] Heller says that Deresiewicz argues the liberal arts "will help students hone their 'moral imagination,'" but "The advice seems cheap. When an impoverished student at Stanford, the first in his family to go to college, opts for a six-figure salary in finance after graduation, a very different but equally compelling kind of 'moral imagination' may be at play. (Imagine being able to pay off your loans and never again having to worry about keeping a roof over your family’s heads.)" Despite this mixed critical response, the book was a New York Times bestseller.[28]

"Solitude and Leadership"


In October 2009, Deresiewicz delivered a speech titled "Solitude and Leadership" to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point.[5] It was later published in The American Scholar and went viral online.[29] In it, he makes the case that leadership entails more than just success and accomplishment. Citing observations he made of students at Yale and Columbia, Deresiewicz discusses the ubiquity of "world-class hoop jumpers" who "can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to."[30] Instead, he argues, true leaders (such as General David Petraeus) are those who are able to step outside the cycle of achievement and hoop jumping in order to think for themselves. Deresiewicz claims that solitude is essential to becoming a leader.[29]



In 2020, Deresiewicz published The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech on how artists sustain themselves in the Information Age.[31]

Personal life


Deresiewicz lives in Portland, Oregon.[citation needed]


  1. ^ William Deresiewicz & Mark Edmundson.
  2. ^ "William Deresiewicz". Author Bios. The Nation. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  3. ^ William Deresiewicz (2007). "Love on Campus". The American Scholar.
  4. ^ William Deresiewicz (2008). "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education". The American Scholar.
  5. ^ a b Deresiewicz, William (March 2010). "Solitude and Leadership". Phi Beta Kappa. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  6. ^ Deresiewicz, William (6 March 2017). "On Political Correctness". The American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  7. ^ William Deresiewicz (2012-02-22). "That is So! That is So!". The New Republic.
  8. ^ William Deresiewicz (2005-01-09). "You Talkin' to Me?". New York Times.
  9. ^ William Deresiewicz (2000-08-06). "Among The Bad Boys". New York Times.
  10. ^ Deresiewicz, William (June 2015). "What a Piece of Work: Mark Greif's intellectual excavations". Harper's Magazine. Harper's. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  11. ^ Deresiewicz, William (September 2015). "The Neoliberal Arts: How college sold its soul to the market". Harper's Magazine. Harper's. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths DERESIEWICZ, HERBERT". query.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2022-01-21.
  13. ^ "Deresiewicz Summer Research Fellowship | Undergraduate Research and Fellowships". urf.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2022-01-21.
  14. ^ Deresiewicz, William (November 30, 2011). "A Jew in the Northwest". The American Scholar. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  15. ^ Deresiewicz, William. "The Academic Dilemma". Spectator Publishing Company. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  16. ^ "Alumni in the News: September 13, 2021". Columbia College Today. 2021-09-13. Retrieved 2022-01-21.
  17. ^ Deresiewicz, William. "Long Story Short: About Me". Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  18. ^ Ahamed, Nick (October 29, 2014). "Revisiting Deresiewicz, Part I: Addressing criticisms of 'Excellent Sheep' author". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  19. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (2014-09-19). "The Wolf Sits Down Within the Flock". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-08-11.
  20. ^ John Williams (January 14, 2012). "National Book Critics Circle Names 2012 Award Finalists". New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  21. ^ Deresiewicz, William. "The Complete All Points". Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  22. ^ Seymour, Miranda (10 June 2011). "Lessons From Jane Austen". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  23. ^ Deresiewicz, William (June 2008). "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education". Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  24. ^ "Free Press to Publish EXCELLENT SHEEP: Thinking for Yourself, Inventing Your Life, and Other Things the Ivy League Won't Teach You by William Deresiewicz" (Press release). PR Newswire Association. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  25. ^ Garner, Dwight (12 August 2014). "The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education". New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  26. ^ Grafton, Anthony (22 August 2014). "The Enclosure of the American Mind". New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  27. ^ Heller, Nathan (1 September 2014). "Poison Ivy". New Yorker. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List for September 7, 2014". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  29. ^ a b "Want To Be A Leader? 'Learn To Be Alone With Your Thoughts'". Boston University. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  30. ^ Denning, Steve. "The Key Missing Ingredient In Leadership Today". Forbes. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  31. ^