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Booth, Wayne C. 1921–2005

Booth, Wayne C. 1921–2005

(Wayne Clayson Booth)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born February 22, 1921, in American Fork, UT; died of complications from dementia, October 10, 2005, in Chicago, IL. Critic, educator, and author. A University of Chicago English professor, Booth was best known as a literary critic who often wrote on the interaction between author and reader. Raised in a Mormon family, Booth's first aspiration was to be a missionary in Chicago. However, he began to grow critical of religious teachings and turned instead to literature. He earned a B.A. at Brigham Young University in 1944, then served in the U.S. Army as an infantry clerk in Paris during the final two years of World War II. He returned home in 1946 to attend the University of Chicago, where he completed his M.A. in 1947 and his Ph.D. in 1950. His first job as a teacher was at Haverford College, where he was an assistant professor for three years. He then joined the Earlham College faculty as an English professor and department chair. In 1962, Booth returned to Chicago, where he embarked on a long career that would last until his 1992 retirement as George M. Pullman Professor of English emeritus; even then, he continued to teach courses as late as the summer of 2005. Booth's publishing career began auspiciously with the classic The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961). He would write many more books on literary criticism, including Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism (1979), The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1988), and The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (2004). As a critic, Booth believed that it was possible to have more than one valid interpretation of a work of fiction—this became known as critical pluralism—and he also became known for coining such phrases as "the unreliable narrator" and "the implied author." He was ultimately a significant contributor to the art of literary criticism for asserting that criticism and fiction are purely subjective arts and cannot be honed down into pure objective terms. This was directly in contrast to the then-dominant school known as New Criticism. In addition, Booth contributed to his discipline significantly as the founder of the important journal Critical Inquiry. At the time of his death, he had just completed the memoir My Many Selves: The Quest for a Plausible Harmony (2006).



Booth, Wayne C., For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1999.

Booth, Wayne C., My Many Selves: The Quest for a Plausible Harmony, Utah State University (Logan, UT), 2006.


Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2005, section 1, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2005, p. B8.

New York Times, October 11, 2005, p. A25.

Times (London, England), October 14, 2005, p. 80.

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