A New Book Pays Tribute to David S. Reynolds

June 1, 2018

Above the American Renaissance: David S. Reynolds and the Spiritual Imagination in American Literary Studies - out this month - captures the spirt of the GC professor's writings.

Above-the-American-Renaissance book cover

When Graduate Center Distinguished Professor David S. Reynolds’ (English) book, Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, was published in 1988, one reviewer called it “a rich, grand, transforming book, an inspired feat of literary and historical imagination.”

The book bridged literary criticism that emphasized the text itself and cultural history, analyzed major works and popular writings, and placed 19th century American writers in the complex geographic, cultural, and social context of the times. It was reissued in 2011 by Oxford University Press, and, this month, a collection of essays in tribute to this groundbreaking work will be published.

This new book, Above the American Renaissance: David S. Reynolds and the Spiritual Imagination in American Literary Studies, testifies to the transformative effect of Reynolds’ work on scholars of 19th century American literature. In his introduction, Harold K. Bush, professor of English at St. Louis University and one of the book’s editors, called Reynolds’s work, “arguably the most significant volume in American literary studies to be published in the past three decades.”

Brian Yothers, distinguished professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, who co-edited the essays sees Reynolds’ book as “both a model and a provocation.” The 15 essays in Above the American Renaissance are cultural biographies — a category that the editors say “hardly existed” prior to Reynolds’ book. Their subjects include writers Reynolds focused on, including Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. With Reynolds’ methodology and meticulous research as the foundation, the scholars write in the context of their own time, reflecting their scholarly focus on religion and spirituality.  

David-S-Reynolds headshot

Reynolds, the author and editor of 15 books, including studies of abolitionist John Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, said that he, “was humbled and thrilled” when he heard about this project based on his influential work. He noted that this new book emerges out of literary and historical scholarship that emphasizes culture and biography – changes that his book helped to usher in. This new collection of essays also reflects a more recent change, the accessibility of sources on the internet. “The methodology it uses — what I call reconstructive criticism, which calls for far-reaching contextual research — has gotten a huge boost in recent times from the instant availability of massive online archives. Now everyone can do archival research with the click of a mouse!”