Yale Press Anthology of Yale Writers Adds Voice to the University's Tercentennial Celebrations

As part of Yale's Tercentennial celebration, Yale University Press will publish an anthology titled "Bright Pages: Yale Writers, 1701-2001."
As part of Yale’s Tercentennial celebration, Yale University Press will publish an anthology titled “Bright Pages: Yale Writers, 1701-2001.”

The book pays homage to many of the illustrious poets, novelists, playwrights, journalists and essayists among its alumni by providing samples of their work in one volume.

The task of choosing from an embarrassment of literary riches fell to Yale alumnus J.D. McClatchy, the editor of the highly respected Yale Review and an acclaimed poet and librettist in his own right.

“Any collection that attempts to represent the full range of Yale writers over three centuries, and to sample the depth and variety of their work, should properly run to several volumes,” McClatchy says in his introduction.

Stephen Vincent Benét, James Fenimore Cooper, Clarence Day, Brendan Gill, John Guare, A. R. Gurney, John Knowles, Sinclair Lewis, Archibald MacLeish, David McCullough, Gloria Naylor, Mark Strand, Calvin Trillin, Robert Penn Warren, Wendy Wasserstein and Tom Wolfe are among the writers in “Bright Pages.”

Cutting across the more conventional categories of fiction, non-fiction and drama, McClatchy has included works from the religious leaders Jonathan Edwards and Timothy Dwight, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, songwriter Cole Porter and lexicographer Noah Webster.

McClatchy has divided the volume into three categories. The first features the work of four great writing teachers at Yale, John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren, John Hollander and Robert Stone; the second, post-World War II writers; the third, those authors from Jonathan Edwards to Thornton Wilder who emerged from Yale in its first two and a half centuries.

McClatchy’s introduction to “Bright Pages” is a history of the art of writing at Yale, from its early days as an enclave of Puritanism to its long-held standing as the premier academy for young writers.

“That Yale turned out writers at all during its first two centuries still seems something of a mystery,” he writes, noting the College’s mission of “training young men in the rigors of orthodoxy and the strictures of correct biblical interpretation.”

Despite official disapproval of the arts in its early years, the college spawned several literary societies by the end of the 18th century, according to McClatchy. It was, in fact, Nathan Hale’s reading of Joseph Addison’s “Cato,” in the Linonia society, that provided him with those immortal words about sacrificing life for country.

Following the lively interest in contemporary literature that thrived at Yale around the time of the nation’s founding, the college sank into a literary lethargy in the 19th century, McClatchy reports.

“Eventually, Yale’s extreme educational conservatism was replaced by a palpable anti-intellectualism,” he says of this dark period for the arts. Nonetheless, even during those dour times, the Yale Literary Magazine, long deemed the foremost literary college publication, was founded in 1836.

In a few pages, McClatchy introduces the colorful and dedicated educators who brought about a literary renaissance at Yale around the beginning of the 20th century and who began to erase, as he puts it, “the sharp divide between Harvard’s Athens and Yale’s Sparta.”

In offering this tribute to his Alma Mater, McClatchy reflects:

“The link between artistic knowledge and moral understanding has, during three centuries now, been at the heart of a Yale education. There are those for whom the world means only itself and others for whom the inner soul and destinies of humanity are their subject… . More than many other groups of writers, I think, Yalies have cultivated an instinct to probe the moral dimension of experience, to turn emotions in the light of thought, to site the private self within a complex of public allegiances and pressures.”

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345