Mark Van Doren
|Born||June 13, 1894|
Hope, Vermilion County, Illinois
|Died||December 10, 1972 (aged 78)|
|Occupation||poet, critic, teacher|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois|
|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 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 critic. He was 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 (1924-1928), and its film critic, 1935 to 1938.
He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Collected Poems 1922-1938. Amongst his other notable works, many published in The Kenyon Review, 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).
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.
He was the younger brother of the academic and biographer Carl Van Doren, starting with whom all five brothers attended the local elementary school and high school. Mark Van Doren eventually studied at the University of Illinois in Urbana, 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, while also a member of the Boar's Head Society, a student society at the university devoted to poetry.
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  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, writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Walter B. Pitkin Jr. and poet-critic John Hollander.
In 1940, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Collected Poems 1922-1938. This came only a year after his elder brother Carl had won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for Benjamin Franklin. 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. Starting in 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.
In 1922 Mark Van Doren married Dorothy Graffe, novelist and writer of the memoir The Professor and I (1959), 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.
Their son, Charles Van Doren (February 12, 1926 - April 9, 2019), 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, who earned an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance. 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.
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.
Short story collection
Mark Van Doren's Literary Letters:
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.