Buying Time: Literary Philanthropy and 20th Century American Literature

Alexander Gordon Rocca

Buying Time: Literary Philanthropy and 20th Century American Literature
Rocca, Alexander Gordon
Thesis Advisor(s):
Adams, Rachel
Ph.D., Columbia University
English and Comparative Literature
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United States
This dissertation analyzes the influence of cultural philanthropy on 20th and 21st-century American literature. Modern cultural philanthropy emerged in the late 19th century out of the fortunes of wealthy industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, and grew to be one of the three pillars of the 20th-century literary economy alongside the publishing market and the university system. I trace the origins and evolution of literary philanthropic institutions through authorial case studies to show how funding from the Guggenheim Foundation, the PEN American Center, the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Program, and the MacArthur Foundation have opened avenues for collective political action and individual aesthetic innovation alike, while at the same time extending the power and influence of institutions over the cultural sphere. Through readings of Walter Francis White, Langston Hughes, Philip Roth, Leslie Marmon Silko, Maxine Hong Kingston, and David Foster Wallace, I show how philanthropic institutions have sought to make modernity hospitable for writers—part of what John Dewey in the 1930s called modernity’s “lost individuals”—by incorporating them and their work into the American democratic project. The effect, I argue, has been the democratization of American literature and an unprecedented efflorescence of writing by the varied people and social groups that at once constitute America and its most profound aspirations. Literary philanthropy seeks to transform the literary imagination from a luxury for individual aesthetic ends into an integral component of the common good.
American literature
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Suggested Citation:
Alexander Gordon Rocca, , Buying Time: Literary Philanthropy and 20th Century American Literature, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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