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Michael T. Thurston
Smith College (Northampton, MA 01063-6304)
Politics and Sexual Identity in the Life of American Literary Critic F.O. Matthiessen, 1902-1950

A book-length study on the life and times of literary critic F. O. Matthiessen [1902-1950].  

This biography of literary critic F.O. Matthiessen narratively interweaves his life and work, showing how his sexual identity and progressive politics informed his literary analyses, especially in his classic 1941 book, The American Renaissance. Where hagiographic accounts after his 1950 suicide emphasized his death, and where critical examinations of his work focus on his formalism and its limitations, this biography shows how Matthiessen’s life and work shared values and commitments. More than this, by situating Matthiessen in the communities and institutions he worked in--from the Harvard English department to the Progressive Party and the Salzburg Seminar--I develop historical understanding of how a semi-closeted gay man conducted his personal life, how the non-Communist political left thrived on university campuses, and how repression along lines of sexuality and politics produced both brilliant responses and tragic personal outcomes.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
American Literature; American Studies; Literary Criticism


Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$25,200 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2019 – 6/30/2019