Van Wyck Brooks
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Van Wyck Brooks

Van Wyck Brooks American literary critic, biographer, and historian

American literary critic, biographer, and historian
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American literary critic, biographer, and historian
Countries United States of America
Occupations Historian Critic Literary critic Literary historian Author Writer Journalist
Type Academia Journalism Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 16 February 1886 (Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey, U.S.A.)
Death 2 May 1963 (Connecticut, U.S.A.)
Education Harvard University
Van Wyck Brooks
The details

Van Wyck Brooks (February 16, 1886 in Plainfield, New Jersey – May 2, 1963 in Bridgewater, Connecticut) was an American literary critic, biographer, and historian.


Members of the Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Roosevelt visit FDR at the White House (October 1944). From left: Van Wyck Brooks, Hannah Dorner, Jo Davidson, Jan Kiepura, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Gish, Dr. Harlow Shapley

Brooks graduated from Harvard University in 1908. As a student he published his first book, a collection of poetry called Verses by Two Undergraduates, co-written with his friend John Hall Wheelock.

Brooks' best-known work is a series of studies entitled Makers and Finders: A History of the Writer in America, 1800-1915 (1952), which chronicled the development of American literature during the long 19th century. Brooks embroidered elaborate biographical detail into anecdotal prose. For The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865 (1936) he won the second National Book Award for Non-Fiction from the American Book Sellers Association and the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for History. The book was also included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924-1944.

Brooks was a long-time resident of Bridgewater, Connecticut, which built a town library wing in his name. Although a decade-long fund-raising effort was abandoned in 1972, a hermit in Los Angeles, Charles E. Piggott, with no connection to Bridgewater surprised the town by leaving money for the library in his will. With $210,000 raised, the library addition went up in 1980.

Among his works, the book The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920) analyzes the literary progression of Samuel L. Clemens and attributes shortcomings to Clemens' mother and wife. In 1925 he published a translation from French of the 1920 biography of Henry Thoreau by Leon Bazalgette, entitled Henry Thoreau, Bachelor of Nature.

In 1944, Brooks was on the cover of Time Magazine.

Awards and honors

Places named after him

A historic district known for its old Victorian and Second French Empire style buildings in Plainfield, the town of his birth, is named after him.


  • 1937: Pulitzer Prize in history and National Book Award for 1936 nonfiction
  • 1938: Goldmedaille des Limited Editions Club
  • 1944: Carey Thomas Award for The World of Washington Irving
  • 1946: Goldmedal of National Institute of Arts and Letters (American Academy of Arts and Letters)
  • 1953: Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal
  • 1954: Huntington Hartford Foundation Award
  • 1957: Secondary Education Board Award for Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait

Honorary degrees

Doctor of Letters:

  • Boston University
  • Bowdoin College
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University
  • Harvard University
  • Northeastern Illinois University
  • Tufts University
  • Union College
  • University of Pennsylvania

Doctor of Humane Letters:

  • Northwestern University
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