Monroe K. Spears

Black and white photograph of Monroe Spears

Monroe K. Spears. Image uploaded by Find a Grave user amity.

(1916–1998)  Monroe Kirklyndorf Spears was born in Darlington, South Carolina, and educated at the University of South Carolina, where he earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees, and Princeton University, where he earned his Ph.D.. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, University of the South, and Rice University. Spears was a leading proponent of and gatekeeper for southern literature.

Spears wrote poetry and published several books of fiction and verse throughout his lifetime. Spears expanded the range of his scholarly footprint by being an expert on British writers, especially Matthew Prior and W. H. Auden. Indeed, his work on the latter, The Disenchanted Island, is still regarded as one of the essential formalist critiques of Auden. Spears eventually argued that modern American literature reflects this country’s “ambition to break with the past and with the Europe that embodies it.” By concentrating on American writers like James Dickey and Hart Crane, Spears himself certainly was able to wedge this break from Europe as his career grew.

To the general public, Spears is probably remembered most for his regular contributions to the New York Review of Books.  Spears used these articles to define the American literary canon. Because of his many contributions to American letters, Monroe K. Spears was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 1993. In addition, Rice University decided to fund an annual Monroe K. Spears Award in his honor. The award’s webpage provides a fine assessment of this man: “Because everything Professor Spears wrote is marked by clarity, economy, and felicity of expression and by elegant and discerning interpretation, the award recognizes the essay published in each volume of SEL: Studies of English Literature 1500–1900 that most nearly achieves these qualities and that has given the editors the greatest pleasure to read.”