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Underwood, Thomas A.

Underwood, Thomas A.


Born in Houston, TX.


Home—MA. E-mail—[email protected]


Has taught at Columbia University, Boston University, and Yale University; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, currently preceptor in expository writing.


Arthur G.B. Metcalf Cup for Excellence in Teaching, Boston University, 1997; James E. Conway Excellence in Teaching Writing Award, Harvard Extension, 2006.


(Editor, with Werner Sollors and Caldwell Titcomb) Varieties of Black Experiences at Harvard: An Anthology, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1986, revised and updated edition published as Blacks at Harvard: A Documentary History of African-American Experience at Harvard and Radcliffe, introduction by Randall Kennedy, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Allen Tate: Orphan of the South (biography), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.

(Editor, with Emily S. Bingham) The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal: Essays after "I'll Take My Stand," University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 2001.


Thomas A. Underwood has written and edited several books about the American South and the African-American experience. Blacks at Harvard: A Documentary History of African-American Experience at Harvard and Radcliffe, which Underwood helped edit, provides a history of African-American attendance at that university, which began when the first black student was admitted in 1865. The book goes on to chronicle a list of firsts, including first graduate, first to live in the dormitories, and first to be awarded a Ph.D. (W.E.B. DuBois). The work also contains a collection of memoirs, newspaper accounts, essays, poems, letters, and official university papers. Antioch Review critic George T. Johnson commented: "The complete citations of works contained in the body of the anthology facilitates and encourages further reading and research."

Allen Tate: Orphan of the South is a literary biography about the Southern poet Allen Tate, who was considered one of the greatest of the century; Tate was revered by his peers, including T.S. Eliot, whose work was said to resemble Tate's. Tate not only wrote poetry but was a literary critic as well. He was fiercely vocal when it came to his literary or cultural opinions. Tate attended Vanderbilt University in the 1920s, where he became part of a group of poets that included John Crowe Ransom and such future literary luminaries as Robert Penn Warren. Tate soon took over the group, and in 1922 they produced The Fugitive, a little magazine aimed at separating them from the stodgy literary establishment of the Old South. Tate eventually left for New York, where he joined the American modernists who were living and writing there. However, by the late 1920s, Tate missed the Southern life he had eschewed and began speaking out in favor of traditional Southern values. With several writers, including Ransom and Warren, he produced the essay collection I'll Take My Stand, which criticizes capitalist industry and advocates an agrarian society. This crusade became a major motivator in his life.

Underwood addresses this early portion of Tate's life in his book, ending the biography in 1938. John M. Grammar, writing for the Mississippi Quarterly, stated that Underwood "is surefooted on literary turf." "Tate has been lucky in his biographer," added New Republic critic Christopher Benfey. "Underwood's book is rigorously researched and sturdily written. While sympathetic to Tate and admiring of his achievements, Underwood has appropriate qualms about Tate's devotion to so-called Southern ideals. Thus he explores in detail and unflinchingly Tate's commitment until the 1950s to white supremacy … and his distaste for socializing with black writers; and his opposition to the ‘Liberal attack’ on Christian values in the Scopes trial; and his flirtation with fascism as a viable blueprint for the South."



Antioch Review, winter, 1994, George T. Johnson, review of Blacks at Harvard: A Documentary History of African-American Experience at Harvard and Radcliffe, p. 52.

Atlantic Monthly, December, 2000, review of Allen Tate: Orphan of the South; December, 2000, Fred Hobson, "The Cosmopolitan Provincial," review of Allen Tate.

Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2, 2001, Nina C. Ayoub, review of Allen Tate.

Journal of American History, December, 2001, Paul V. Murphy, review of Allen Tate.

Journal of Southern History, August, 2002, Ben F. Johnson III, review of Allen Tate, p. 736; February, 2003, Bethany L. Johnson, review of The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal: Essays after "I'll Take My Stand," p. 223.

Library Journal, November 15, 2000, David Kirby, review of Allen Tate, p. 69.

Mississippi Quarterly, spring, 2001, John M. Grammar, review of Allen Tate, p. 273; summer, 2003, Martyn Bone, "Were Farms Necessary? The Agrarian Question," review of The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal, p. 421.

National Review, May 14, 2001, Scott Morris, "Keeper of the Flame," review of Allen Tate.

New Republic, June 4, 2001, Christopher Benfey, "The War between the Tates," p. 44.

North Carolina Historical Review, January, 2002, James S. Humphreys, review of The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal, pp. 131-133.

Southern Literary Journal, spring, 2003, Mark G. Malvasi, "Allen Tate: An Orthodox Man," p. 138.

Washington Post Book World, February 11, 2001, Jonathan Yardley, review of Allen Tate.


Harvard University Summer Program Web site, (October 11, 2006), brief biography of Thomas A. Underwood.

Princeton University Press Web site, (October 11, 2006), brief biography of Thomas A. Underwood.

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