portrait of Morris Dickstein in
Photo: Nancy Crampton

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 of New York. He was Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre and a senior fellow of the Center for the Humanities, which he founded in 1993.

Dickstein’s interests 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 Partisan Review 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.

His books include a widely known cultural history the 1960s, Gates of Eden, nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism in 1978 and selected as one of the best books of that year by the editors of the New York Times Book Review, and Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009), which 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. 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 last book was a memoir, Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education (2015). 

Dickstein was a member of the National Society of Film Critics and served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, as Vice-Chair of the New York Council for the Humanities, and as president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. The late Norman Mailer described him as ”one of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature.”

Morris Dickstein died at home on March 24, 2021, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Read obituaries from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and his family.