Reynolds, David S. 1948-

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Reynolds, David S. 1948-
(David Spencer Reynolds)


Born August 30, 1948, in Providence, RI; son of Paul R. (in business) and Adelaide (an artist) Reynolds; married Suzanne Nalbantian (a professor of English and comparative literature), July 23, 1983; children: Aline Elizabeth. Education: Amherst College, B.A., 1970; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1979. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, gardening, playing the guitar and piano.


Home—16 Linden Ln., Old Westbury, NY 11568 (winter); Box 209, Sagaponack, NY 11962 (summer). Office—Department of English, Baruch College, New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]


Providence County Day School, Providence, RI, English teacher, early 1970s; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor of English and American studies, 1980-86; Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, assistant professor and director of Whitman studies, 1986-89; Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York, Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies, 1989—. Visiting associate professor, Barnard College, 1983-84; visiting adjunct professor, New York University, 1986, 1987. Member, Institute for Early American History and Culture.


Modern Language Association of America, Organization of American Historians, PEN American Center.


Christian Gauss Award for excellence in criticism and New York Times Book Review "Notable Book of the Year" distinction, both for Beneath the American Renaissance; Bancroft Prize in American History, Ambassador Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Choice, and American Library Association "Notable Book of the Year" distinctions, all for Walt Whitman's America.


Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1981.

George Lippard, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1982.

George Lippard, Prophet of Protest: Writings of an American Radical, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1986.

Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

(Editor and author of introduction and notes) George Lippard, The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall: A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, Crime, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1995.

Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Debra J. Rosenthal) A Serpent in the Cup: Temperance in American Literature, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1997.

(Editor) A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor and author of introduction, with Kimberly R. Gladman) George Thompson, Venus in Boston and Other Tales of Nineteenth-Century City Life, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 2002.

John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.

Walt Whitman, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

(Editor and author of afterword) Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to literature journals and periodicals; contributor of reviews to New York Times Book Review.


Author and educator David S. Reynolds is a native New Englander and career academic who is also an avid musician. Reynolds "earned his way through graduate school by playing music professionally," commented a biographer on The Web site.

Prominent among Reynolds's scholarly interests is the life and cultural context of noted nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman. In Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography Reynolds "demonstrates how Whitman gathered images from virtually every cultural arena and transformed them through his powerful personality into poetry," according to reviewer Martin H. Levinson in ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Reynolds offers "the most complete cultural context ever provided for understanding the subject" of Whitman's life and work, commented John J. Conder in America. He discusses Whitman's homosexuality in terms of how it was perceived by his contemporaries, and concludes that it is more significant to modern audiences than it was to those who knew and read Whitman in his time. Reynolds also carefully analyzes portions of Whitman's poetry, pointing out that many words Whitman used, such as "orgy" and "lover," had much different meanings in Whitman's day than they do now—orgy was simply a synonym for a party, for example, and lover had no sexual connotation and could be used interchangeably with the word "friend." Other subjects include the effect of the Civil War on Whitman's work, the poet's attitudes towards African Americans, and his acceptance of the discredited sci- ence of phrenology. Conder called the book an "eminently readable cultural biography," and concluded that "Reynolds's landmark achievement deserves our attention." Levinson called Reynolds's book an "absorbing well-researched cultural biography of one of America's greatest poets."

Reynolds is also the author of another standalone biography of Whitman. In Walt Whitman he looks again at cultural influences on Whitman, but concentrates more on the human side of the poet. He shows how Whitman's persona and his work were meant to show not a description of the world as it was, but an idealized version of the world Whitman thought could be made to exist, noted Paolina Taglienti in Library Journal. Taglienti commented that Reynolds "skillfully illustrates Whitman's transformation into a poet" and that the book offers a "portrait of a fleshy Whitman who sings." Reynolds's study of Whitman "will aid any reader more fully to appreciate the poet's achievements," concluded a critic in Contemporary Review.

Reynolds examines the life and heritage of an important, but sometimes overlooked, figure in American history with his biography John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. Today, Brown is remembered as a violent abolitionist who mounted an unsuccessful assault on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, an act that contributed to the start of the Civil War and resulted in Brown being captured by federal troops led by Robert E. Lee and hanged for his crimes. However, in his "meticulously researched and eloquently written new biography," Reynolds shows that Brown was "a man who sincerely believed, rightly or wrongly, that the only way to destroy the evil of American slavery was through bloodshed," commented Wesley J. Smith in First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. Reynolds looks carefully at many aspects of Brown's life, including his intense religious faith as a Calvinist and how that faith spurred him toward his position on slavery and abolition. He describes Brown's early days and how he came to believe that violence and murder were acceptable responses to slavery. He also explains how Brown influenced many Northern intellectuals of the time and how his active approach to abolition helped sway public opinion in the north. Reynolds carefully depicts the events of "Bloody Kansas," in which Brown first tipped his hand toward violence, leading a band of faithful followers who dragged a number of pro-slavery supporters out of their beds and killed them in the night. He also shows how Brown's reaction to his capture served to impress his captors with his lucidity, eloquence, and determination, and how his death served to galvanize anti-slavery activists and gave them a personality and symbol to use as a rallying point. In the end, Reynolds "succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it," commented Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic Monthly. Smith concluded that Reynolds's work is a "superb biography that brilliantly reanimates its larger-than-life subject in all his charisma and zealotry."

Reynolds once told CA: "The study of literature was for years spoiled by too narrow a concern with a handful of canonized works, which were usually placed in a cultural vacuum. Of late, literary study has profited from canon revision and new historical methodologies, but much remains to be done to recapture the literary post in its fullness. Enlightened literary history can be written only after comprehensive research into a broad range of forgotten social and imaginative texts by writers of various geographical regions and different social groups. Such research shows that great literature is time-specific and culture-specific at the same time that it is universal. Far from being detached from society and history, literature is, to a large degree, produced by society and history.

"My own research began as an adventure into uncharted territories of nineteenth-century American popular literature. Having sampled the total range of American popular writing of the pre-Civil War period, I then reassessed the works of seven familiar authors—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe—from a fresh historical perspective."



America, October 21, 1995, John J. Conder, review of Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, p. 24.

Atlantic Monthly, May, 2005, Christopher Hitchens, "The Man Who Ended Slavery," review of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, p. 121.

Contemporary Review, July, 2005, review of Walt Whitman, p. 60.

ETC: A Review of General Semantics, winter, 1996, Martin H. Levinson, review of Walt Whitman's America, p. 481.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, December 2005, Wesley J. Smith, "Who Would True Valour See?," review of John Brown, Abolitionist, p. 56.

Library Journal, February 15, 2005, Paolina Taglienti, review of Walt Whitman, p. 130.


The, (May 8, 2006), biography of David S. Reynolds.

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Reynolds, David S. 1948-

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