“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” – Mark Van Doren
Born in Illinois on this date in 1894, Van Doren was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writer and critic, and one of the nation’s leading scholars during a 40-year career as Professor of English at Columbia University. There 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.
Van Doren joined the Columbia University faculty in 1920, having been preceded by his brother Carl, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. Mark Van Doren went on to become one of Columbia's greatest teachers and a "legendary classroom presence" teaching English until 1959, at which point he became Professor Emeritus until his death in 1972.
He authored 12 books of poetry, 3 novels, and an astounding 17 nonfiction books, including the definitive Mark Van Doren on the Great Poems of Western Literature, published in 1962 and one of the great resource books of the 20th Century. Van Doren also served as literary editor of The Nation from 1924–28, and its film critic from 1935 to 1938.
“Bring ideas in and entertain them royally,” Van Doren advised his writing students, “for one of them may become the king.”
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