Historic, but not famous

Mark Van Doren, poet, writer, critic, professor

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 Beat Generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Van Doren was literary editor of The Nation, in New York City (1924–28), and its film critic, 1935 to 1938. He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Collected Poems 1922–1938. He joined the Columbia University faculty in 1920 and 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.

Mr. Van Doren was a strong advocate of liberal education, and wrote the book, Liberal Education (1943), which helped promote the influential “great books” movement. Starting 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. Since 1962, students of Columbia College have honored a great teacher at the school each year with the “Mark Van Doren Award”.

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