Yoder, Edwin M., Jr. 1934–

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Yoder, Edwin M., Jr. 1934–

(Edwin Milton Yoder, Jr.)

PERSONAL:

Born July 18, 1934, in Mebane, NC; son of Edwin Moses and Mytrice M. Yoder; married Mary Jane Warwick; children: Anne Daphne, Edwin Warwick. Education: University of North Carolina, B.A., 1956; Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., M.A., 1958.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Alexandria, VA.

CAREER:

Journalist, author, and educator. Charlotte News, Charlotte, NC, columnist and editorial writer, 1958-61; Greensboro Daily News, Greensboro, NC, columnist and editorial writer, 1961-64, associate editor and editorial pages editor, 1965-75; Washington Star, Washington, DC, editorial page editor, 1975-81; Washington Post Writers Group Syndicate, Washington, DC, columnist, 1981-97. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, assistant professor of history, 1964-65; Washington and Lee University, professor of journalism and humanities, beginning 1991, became professor emeritus. Rhodes scholarship program, class secretary and interviewer of candidates. Member of board of trustees, University of North Carolina, Institute for Early American History and Culture, and National Humanities Center.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Rhodes scholar to Oxford University; Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, 1979; fellow, Jesus College, Oxford; recipient of degrees, including from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

The Unmaking of a Whig and Other Essays in Self-Definition, Georgetown University Press (Washington, DC), 1990.

Night of the Old South Ball: And Other Essays and Fables, Yoknapatawpha Press (Oxford, MS), 1994.

Joe Alsop's Cold War: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1995.

The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1997.

Telling Others What to Think: Recollections of a Pundit, Louisiana State University Press/Kevin P. Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs (Baton Rouge, LA), 2004.

OTHER

Lions at Lamb House (novel), Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of introduction to books, including Remembering Charles Kuralt, by Ralph Grizzle, Globe Pequot Press (Guilford, CT), 2004, and North toward Home, by Willie Morris. A collection of Yoder's papers is held at the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

SIDELIGHTS:

Pulitzer Prize winner Edwin M. Yoder, Jr., has been a professor, journalist, newspaper columnist, and editorial writer, writing for such newspapers as the Charlotte News, Greensboro Daily News, Washington Star, Washington Post, and many others. From his insider's vantage point, Yoder occupied a unique position to observe the professional and personal life of the subject of his book Joe Alsop's Cold War: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue. In fact, Yoder knew the influential columnist personally; the two became friends after Alsop's retirement.

"Younger newspeople these days may hardly recognize his name, but from the 1940s into the 1970s Joe Alsop (1910-1989) was about as well known as Connie Chung is today," observed Richard Dudman in Nieman Reports. Alsop and his brother Stewart Alsop wrote a widely read, extremely popular syndicated column covering Washington, DC, politics that appeared in newspapers across the country. After World War II, with television a nascent medium, newspapers still had the standing to be tremendously influential in politics and journalism. Washington had become a center of power, not only for the United States, but for the entire world. In this atmosphere, the Alsops' column thrived. According to Dudman, the brothers "broke many major stories and often led public opinion on such issues as development of the hydrogen bomb (they favored it), Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade against alleged Communists in government (they opposed it), and the Vietnam War (they backed it to the bitter end)."

Joe Alsop retained his influence despite sometimes unpopular opinions. He had direct access to higher-ups in the U.S. Departments of State and of Defense, going to them for inside news stories "or sometimes lecturing them on how to do their jobs," as Dudman commented. A sexual scandal in 1957 threatened to destroy Alsop's career and reputation—Alsop was secretly homosexual, and after being seduced by the KGB during a trip to the USSR, the Soviets tried to blackmail Alsop into becoming a Soviet agent with threats of releasing compromising photographs (the object of the blackmail is uncertain and undocumented). Alsop himself reported the incident to highly placed friends in the Central Intelligence Agency, and there was no criticism or shame following the episode because few, if any, outside his circle of friends knew about the events in Moscow. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did try to investigate while Eisenhower administration officials spread the story. "Alsop showed strength of character by carrying on with his column despite a whispering campaign against him, including sly hints by McCarthy that he knew Alsop's secret," Dudman remarked. Even after the Soviets sent copies of the pictures to other Washington columnists in the 1970s, Alsop's reputation remained intact. David C. Hendrickson, writing in Foreign Affairs, called Yoder's book "an affectionate and amusing biography." Yoder "evokes Joe and the Washington of Joe's day with skill and affection," commented Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in the Washington Monthly.

In The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past, Yoder writes about issues of historical significance. The book "is an elegant brief for history as more than simply a fund of facts to be memorized," commented Michael Skube in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "History is the narrative of our lives as a people and a nation, one generation passing it on to the next." Yoder covers such topics as the United States Constitution, nationalism, the role of the president, and the study of history itself. He offers thoughts on such historical figures as Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler, as well as more current notables such as civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and historian Barbara Tuchman. "The title of Yoder's book … is as precise as it is honest," noted John Lukacs in the Los Angeles Times. "It is a collection of essays but, unlike many such collections, they all cohere." "Yoder is generally a thoughtful and judicious, if conservative, commentator on past and present," commented Mary Carroll in Booklist.

Yoder used two real historical characters as the basis for his light, humorous novel Lions at Lamb House. The story concerns Sigmund Freud, known as the father of modern psychiatry, and Henry James, an influential novelist who lived at the same time as Freud. There is no record of the two men ever meeting in real life, but in Yoder's novel, they come into contact when James's older brother, William, contacts Freud, fearing that his brother's writing style reveals obsessive disorders. James was known to be fastidious and celibate, while Freud's theories focused strongly on sexuality. The author shows James as amused by Freud, chiefly interested in him as a colorful character, evoked in letters to a friend, novelist Edith Wharton, another character from real life. "The long passages detailing the great minds' views of each other are the highlight of the book," stated a writer for Kirkus Reviews. The result is an "effervescent" novel, according to the Publishers Weekly reviewer.

"Edwin Yoder is very even-handed in his account of this debate between the artist and the analyst who believed he had come up with an irrefutable science of human behavior. As a writer, Yoder has a natural propensity to favor James, the artist over the analyst. Yet he holds out hope for psychotherapy, too, even allowing Henry James to concede the possible use of it," stated Joseph Epstein in a review for the Weekly Standard. Epstein described the book as "a highly amusing novel that is, at bottom, of great seriousness." Lions at Lamb House was also recommended by a reviewer for River Walk Journal, who stated: "In spite of the fact that each man's philosophy is the antithesis of the other's, Yoder manages to reach an amiable balance between them. This tale of gentlemanly scholars could only be created by one of their own kind, and Edwin M. Yoder, Jr., is decidedly one."

Yoder once told CA: "I was encouraged to write by my parents—my mother had been a poet and literary magazine editor in her college days—and good teachers all through, but probably the decisive moment was a small-town newspaper job in the summer of my sixteenth year, when I wrote sports, features, and news items and even sold some advertising. Probably the decisive ‘influence’ on my writing, apart from a great deal of reading over the years, in literature and history, was my great writing teacher at Chapel Hill, Phillips Russell. He knew all the tricks and taught them with colorful adages, such as "If you're going to write about bears, bring on the bears." The reference was to the impatience his small daughter had once expressed when he began the usual windup to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: ‘Once upon a time, in a deep forest….’ ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘I thought this was a scary story about a bear. Bring on the bear.’ The example was anecdotal, but the lesson was critical: begin in medias res, and don't waste the reader's time with long and irrelevant overtures.

"I prefer to write in longhand with pen and ink, using the word processor as a proofing and polishing device—at least when I have time. I write first drafts rapidly in spurts and spasms but spend a lot of time and effort revising. I am seldom satisfied with fewer than four or five drafts and often do more. The most surprising discovery (of many) as a writer is that people believe exactly what they want to believe, whatever the evidence or counter-argument—a disillusioning discovery for a pundit. My favorite among my books, so far, is my current memoir, with Night of the Old South Ball: And Other Essays and Fables the runner-up. I seem to write best when I write from personal experience and observation, about things that engage my emotions. But then that is true of most writers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Yoder, Edwin M., Telling Others What to Think: Recollections of a Pundit, Louisiana State University Press/Kevin P. Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs (Baton Rouge, LA), 2004.

PERIODICALS

American Journalism Review, June, 1995, James E. Casto, review of Joe Alsop's Cold War: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue, p. 45.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 14, 1997, Michael Skube, "For Yoder, History Still Alive and Vital," review of The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past, p. K12.

Booklist, July, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of The Historical Present, p. 1794; September 15, 2007, Kevin Clouther, review of Lions at Lamb House, p. 33.

Foreign Affairs, September-October, 1995, David C. Hendrickson, review of Joe Alsop's Cold War, p. 170.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Lions at Lamb House.

Library Journal, July, 1997, Robert Persing, review of The Historical Present, p. 105.

Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1998, John Lukacs, "Getting It Right," review of The Historical Present, p. 12.

Neiman Reports, summer, 1995, Richard Dudman, review of Joe Alsop's Cold War, p. 79.

Publishers Weekly, February 20, 1995, review of Joe Alsop's Cold War, p. 191; July 16, 2007, review of Lions at Lamb House, p. 147.

Washington Monthly, May, 1995, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., review of Joe Alsop's Cold War, p. 56.

Washington Post Book World, September 19, 2007, Wendy Lesser, review of Lions at Lamb House, p. C2.

Weekly Standard, October 22, 2007, Joel Epstein, review of Lions at Lamb House.

ONLINE

Mostly Fiction, http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (September 19, 2007), Mary Whipple, review of Lions at Lamb House.

Public Broadcasting System Web site, http://www.pbs.org/ (December 5, 2002), transcript of Think Tank television program.

River Walk Journal, http://www.riverwalkjournal.org/ (June 1, 2008), review of Lions at Lamb House.

Washington Post Book World Online, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (September 19, 2007), Wendy Lesser, review of Lions at Lamb House.