Louis Menand & Philip Lopate
This evening’s program virtually brings together two who have done long and hard thinking about the state of things, including how others write and think about the state of things, as time has passed in this country of ours. Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard, New Yorker staff writer, author of such books as The Metaphysical Club, American Studies, and The Marketplace of Ideas, and a 2016 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, is here with his newest, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Joining him in conversation is Phillip Lopate, very much a contemporary, most known as an essayist (Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, Portrait of My Body, but also as novelist and editor of essay anthologies. It is for his newest of the latter, The Golden Age of the American Essay 1945-1970 (Anchor), that he is here tonight. These two books, in their own way, cover much the same period.
“Louis Menand’s The Free World is at once an astonishing work of history and criticism and an essential road map to the middle decades of the twentieth century, from Sartre, Trilling, and Mailer to Sontag, Rauschenberg, and Baldwin. Every page is bracing; the whole amounts to an epic. In a landmark study of a time when art and ideas mattered, Menand’s very act of interpretation, the book itself, shows why they still do.” —Jill Lepore. The Golden Age of the American Essay 1945-1970 engages a ‘golden age’ of essay writing, with pieces on all manner of subjects by James Agee, E.B. White, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, Mary McCarthy, and more.
“What’s marvelous is the way Lopate’s anthologies . . . manage to be not only comprehensive monuments of deep expertise, but such continuously fresh and thrilling reading companions.” —Jonathan Lethem.