Morris Dickstein ‘61CC memoir Why Not Say What Happened

Alumni Artist

Morris Dickstein ‘61CC memoir Why Not Say What Happened


Renowned cultural critic and Columbia University alumnus, Morris Dickstein ‘61CC tells his own deeply engaging story of growing up in the turbulent American culture of the postwar decades in his new memoir Why Not Say What Happened published in February 2015. In Why Not Say What Happened, Dickstein includes a considerable amount of his reflections on his time at Columbia University as a student from 1957 to 1961, and as a member of the faculty from 1966 to 1971. Dickstein describes his memoir as “something of a love letter to Columbia... It dwells especially on some of the literary traditions I took in at Columbia, personified by teachers like [Lionel] Trilling, [Mark] Van Doren, Andrew Chiappe, and Jim Zito, who are profiled in the book.”

In March of 2015, the book received considerable attention! Check out some of the recent reviews coming out of the Chronicle of Education, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. 

Why Not Say What Happened is at once a coming-of-age story, an intellectual autobiography, and vivid cultural history. Tracing a path from the Lower East Side to Columbia University, Yale, and Cambridge, Dickstein leaves home, travels widely, and falls in love, breaking through to new experiences of intimacy and sexual awakening, only to be brought low by emotional conflicts that beset him as a graduate student—homesickness, a sense of cultural dislocation—issues that come to a head during a troubled year abroad. In the tradition of classic memoirs by Alfred Kazin and Irving Howe, this frank and revealing story, at once keenly personal and broadly cultural, sheds light on the many different forms education can take.

Visit the website to listen to an interview with Morris Dickstein

More about Morris Dickstein

Born in 1940, Morris Dickstein grew up in New York. He received his education at Columbia, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Cambridge, and Yale, where he worked with distinguished critics such as Lionel Trilling, F. R. Leavis, Raymond Williams, and Harold Bloom. Returning to New York, he taught first at Columbia, closely observing the 1968 student uprising, and then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University, where he is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre and senior fellow of the Center for the Humanities, which he founded in 1993.

Dickstein’s interests have ranged from English Romantic poetry to the history of criticism, from American cultural history to modern and contemporary fiction. He began teaching film courses in 1975 and writing about film in the late 1970s for publications like American Film, Bennington Review, Partisan Review, and Dissent. His connection to the tumultuous world of the New York intellectuals began with a book review for Partisan Review in 1962, when he was a year out of college. He was a member of the editorial board from 1972 until it ceased publication in 2003. A longstanding contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement, he has also written for The American Scholar, Bookforum, The Nation, and many other publications, combining a career as a teacher and scholar with the activities of a public intellectual.

Other works by Morris Dickstein

Gates of Eden was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism in 1978 and selected as one of the best books of the year by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. Among his other books are a study of modern criticism, Double Agent (1992); a social history of postwar American fiction, Leopards in the Temple (2002); and a collection of essays on realism and literature, A Mirror in the Roadway (2005). His most recent book, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009), received the Ambassador Book Award in American Studies from the English-Speaking Union and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. 

Upcoming Author Event at Barnes & Noble Upper West Side on Feburary 25, 2015 at 7pm. 

Visit the event page for more details