nys writers logo


James Wood
James Wood


NYS Writers Institute, February 28, 2008
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Humanities 354
8:00 p.m. Reading | Assembly Hall, Campus Center


James Wood, influential English-born literary critic at the “New Yorker,” and Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University, will speak about the state of contemporary literary criticism on Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. in Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m. the author will read from his own fiction in Humanities 354 on the uptown campus. The events, which are free and open to the public, are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute.


James Wood, English-born staff writer and literary critic at the “New Yorker,” and former book editor at the “New Republic” (1996-2007), has been called the most influential literary critic of his generation. Wood became chief literary critic of the London “Guardian”at the remarkably young age of 26 in 1992. He has recently received a unique appointment at Harvard University as Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism.

“Los Angeles Times”critic Jeffrey Meyers has said, “Writing with passionate intelligence and richly metaphorical style, James Wood has ignored the opaque aridity of literary theory and insisted on the human relevance of classic and modern literature.” Literary critic William Pritchard has said, “It is the excess, the polemical drive, that makes [James Wood] exhilarating to read, often to be instructed by, sometimes to argue with.” He stands out among many of his contemporaries for championing art over ideology, and aesthetics over politics.

Wood has also earned a certain notoriety for bashing the novels of major literary figures, including Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen. Noting his reputation in this regard, the “Boston Globe” has dubbed him “The Elegant Assassin.”

Wood’s soon-to-be-published third book of criticism is “How Fiction Works”(2008). Blunt, funny and plainspoken, the book addresses such philosophical questions as “What makes a story a story?”, “What is a style?”, and “What is realabout realism?”

Previous collections of criticism include “The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel” (2004), and “The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief” (1999). In a review of “The Irresponsible Self,”Katherine Powers of the “Boston Globe”said, “No one has delineated the hollow that lies at the center of the contemporary ‘ironic’ novel so well as the literary critic James Wood; indeed, no one has written better about most of what he writes about.”

Wood’s first and only novel, “The Book Against God” (2003), tells the tale of a would-be philosopher at odds with his father, an Anglican priest. Writing in the “Washington Post,” Alice K. Turner said, “This is a proficient, intellectually stimulating and amusing first novel…. His characterizations are so vivid, their descriptions so precise, that this book could be used as an exemplar for students.” The“Publishers Weekly” reviewer said that Wood has joined “the select company of critics who write serious fiction--and do it well.”

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.