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Robert D. Richardson

Robert D. Richardson is the acclaimed biographer of America’s three central writers: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James. Taken together, writes John Banville in the New York Review of Books, Richardson’s three studies are among “the glories of contemporary American literature.”

Richardson’s chosen form is the “intellectual biography,” which means he attempts to read not only everything his subjects wrote, but everything they read as well. This immersion allows Richardson to tell the story of his subjects as if he were their contemporary, and to provide an uncanny portrait of that facet of the writer’s life that makes him or her worth remembering at all: the writer’s work and thought. “Aside from his learning, which is prodigious,” says Banville, “Richardson writes a wonderfully fluent, agile prose; he has a poet’s sense of nuance and a novelist’s grasp of dramatic rhythm… Can there be any more exciting critical writing than this?”

Richardson’s honors include the Melcher prize, the Parkman Prize, and the Bancroft Prize and in 1998 he was awarded an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has also been a Guggenheim, a Huntington Library, and a National Humanities Center Fellow. He and his wife, Annie Dillard, have called Key West home since 1994 and he is a former board member and current honorary board member of the Key West Literary Seminar. His most recent books, are First We Read Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process and The Heart of William James. October, or Autumnal Tints, by Henry Thoreau with original watercolors by Lincoln Perry, will be published by W.W. Norton in the fall.

Online Resources

John Banville on Robert D. Richardson for NYRB
Richardson interviewed by Arlo Haskell for Littoral
Profile by Hal Crowther
Richardson talks William James on NPR

Selected Bibliography

First We Read Then We Write (2010)
William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (2006)
Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995)
Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

—as editor
October, or Autumnal Tints [Henry Thoreau; Lincoln Perry] (2012)
The Heart of William James (2010)