Van Wyck Brooks Biography

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

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

The masterpiece of his literary career was a series of studies entitled Makers and Finders, which chronicled the development of American literature during the long 19th century. Brooks' reputation rested on the dexterity with which he embroidered elaborate biographical detail into brilliant anecdotal prose. For The Flowering of New England (1936), he won the second National Book Award for Non-Fiction from the American Book Sellers Association and the 1937 Pulitzer Prize in history.

He was a long-time resident of Bridgewater, Connecticut, which built a town library wing in his name. Although a decade-long fund-raising effort seemed to fail and was abandoned in 1972, a miserly hermit in Los Angeles 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, published in 1920, analyzes the literary progression of Samuel L. Clemens and attributes shortcomings to Clemens' mother and wife. In 1953 he published a translation from French of the 1920 biography of Henry Thoreau by Leon Bazalgette, titled "Henry Thoreau, Bachelor of Nature".

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