Home—12 Mague Ave., West Newton, MA 02165-1538. Office—Department of Humanities, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston University, Boston, MA 02215. E-mail—[email protected].
Boston University, Boston, MA, professor of humanities, 1970—.
Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1966-67; award for best essay from Arizona Quarterly, 1980; Theodore Christian Hoepfner Prize for best story from Southern Humanities Review, 1983 and 1984; Metcalf Cup and Prize for excellence in teaching, both from Boston University, both 1983; honorable mention from Cape Rock poetry competition, 1986; award for best story from San Jose Studies, 1987; first prize for fiction from Kansas Quarterly and Kansas Arts Commission, 1987-88; award for best essay from San Jose Studies, 1990; Richter Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching from Boston University, 1993.
(Author of introduction) Lynne Alvarez, Ceremonies of Earth, (New York, NY), 1976.
Life in the Temperate Zone and Other Stories, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1990.
Professors at Play: Essays, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1991.
The Decline of Our Neighborhood: Stories, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1993.
Contributor to The Fathers' Book, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1986. Contributor to periodicals, including American Literature, Arizona Quarterly, Bostonia, Cache Review, Cake, Carolina Quarterly, College Literature, College Teaching, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, Descant, English Language Notes, Essays in Literature, Four Quarters, Gestus, Hawaii Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Iowa Review, Kansas Quarterly, Lamar Journal of the Humanities, Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Midwest Quarterly, Monocacy Valley Review, Notes on Modern American Literature, Orphic Lute, Piedmont Literary Review, Poem, Poetry Northwest, San Jose Studies, Small Pond, Southern Humanities Review, and Sou'wester.
Robert Wexelblatt is an accomplished fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Among his books is Life in the Temperate Zone, and Other Stories, which Fred Marchant, writing in the Harvard Book Review, described as a volume of "fine and gentle stories." Wexelblatt's style in this 1990 publication is rather demanding, for he employs a rich vocabulary and shows a penchant for the more intellectual, and somewhat absurd, aspects of life. The fourteen-story volume includes a tale in which a professor notes ties between Edgar Allan Poe and baseball; one featuring a musicology student who studies under a professional wrestler; and another about an aging professor determined to dissuade a former student from suicide. Marchant praised the book, "[The book] is laden with wit, wry observation, gentle sarcasm, and wicked ironies." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly suggested the volume is "best read with a dictionary in hand, this dense gallimaufry of intellectual games may prove rewarding to those intelligent and patient enough to penetrate it."
The Decline of Our Neighborhood, Wexelblatt's 1993 volume of eleven short stories, is comprised of similarly rich and inventive tales. In one particularly memorable narrative, "The Savior, Ishl Teitelbaum," Jewish prisoners in a concentration camp ponder their own persecution. Other tales, while less unnerving, are equally compelling. In "Benton's Top Banana," for example, a dashing widower brings his new love, a Jewish comedienne, back to his Midwest home to meet his aging parents. And in "The Alpha Company Artists' Collective," seven art students become inextricably united during World War I, after which their art—and their lives—are consequently altered. These stories are dense with devises, such as stories appearing within stories and comments on a story within a story. For example, "Baby in the Air" is interrupted by a conversation between "the author" and "the inquisitor" about the story and the creative process.
Critics were mostly impressed with The Decline of Our Neighborhood. Zofia Smardz, from the New York Times Book Review, noted that Wexelblatt's stories "seem trenchant while you're reading them, but the ideas don't stick for very long." However, Smardz did find his writing, "Loaded with wit, bristling with irony, draped in erudition and studded with metaphysics." It is irony that stands out in the short stories of Wexelblatt; in fact, a number of critics find his use of irony to be a superior characteristic of his writing. Jay L. Halio from Studies in Short Fiction wrote that Wexelblatt has a "gift for irony in all of its arresting forms" and found that irony weaves its way throughout the eleven stories in order to echo "contemporary political and/or social situations." In an interview with the Boston University newspaper, Boston University Today, Wexelblatt addressed his use of irony, "Irony is in one sense a function of education, of having learned contradictory truths and believing them both. When writing I look for ironies, but I don't really know where they come from and have no control over them." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commended Wexelblatt's writing, noting that "Wexelblatt constructs rich stories that make heavy subjects dance weightlessly before the reader's eyes." Kathleen De Grave, from the Midwest Quarterly, also enjoyed The Decline of Our Neighborhood, "Characters are drawn sharply; the language is at once erudite, witty, and graceful." She continued, "Wexelblatt's collection is funny, engaging, and an intellectual tour-de-force." Booklist's David Cline praised the book as an "extraordinarily inventive and magnetic work."
Wexelblatt also is the author of Professor at Play, a collection of essays. In this wide-ranging volume Wexelblatt writes about Platonism and Franz Kafka's fiction; artists—in this case Heinrich von Kleist, Soren Kierkegaard, and Kafka—who forsake marriage for solitude; and the moral implications of a ringing telephone. Midwest Quarterly reviewer Donald Wayne Viney observed that the essays are "entertaining and insightful," yet they "lack a central focus." However, Viney concluded that "readers will be both amused and edified by Wexelblatt's meanderings."
In addition to the aforementioned writings, Wexelblatt has published poems in various periodicals; supplied the introduction to Lynne Alvarez's Ceremonies of Earth, which appeared in 1976; and contributed to the 1986 publication The Fathers' Book.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1994, David Cline, review of The Decline of Our Neighborhood: Stories, p. 1182.
Boston University Today, January 17-23, 1994, Jim Graves, story on Robert Wexelblatt and The Decline of Our Neighborhood.
Harvard Book Review, spring, 1991, Fred Marchant, review of Life in the Temperate Zone and Other Stories, p. 36.
LINK, October, 1990, review of Life in the Temperate Zone and Other Stories.
Massachusetts Facility Development Consortium Exchange, spring, 1994, Susan A. Holton, review of Professors at Play, p. 6.
Midwest Quarterly, fall, 1992, Donald Wayne Viney, review of Professors at Play, pp. 139-141; summer, 1994, Kathleen De Grave, review of The Decline of Our Neighborhood, pp. 470-472.
New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1994, Zofia Smardz, review of The Decline of Our Neighborhood.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1990, review of Life in the Temperate Zone and Other Stories, p. 67; December 13, 1993, review of The Decline of Our Neighborhood, p. 66.
Studies in Short Fiction, winter, 1996, Jay L. Halio, review of The Decline of Our Neighborhood, pp. 136-138.*