Evan Kindley’s Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture and Wendy Griswold’s American Guides are well-written, impressively researched, and engaging books about overlapping periods (late 1910s to late 1940s and 1935–42, respectively). Both books study the power of institutions to shape the social stature and the public conception of literature.

Kindley historicizes the cultural-institutional standing of the poet-critic in the “postpatronage era” (6) in which poet-critics, more pressingly after the 1929 crash, sought protection from an “irresponsible capitalism” (82) that devalued, even scorned, their literary wares as unprofitable commodities. As a result, poet-critics increasingly turned to universities, foundations, and government bureaucracy for support. Some poet-critics tactically converted modernist poetry’s marketplace deficits into cultural and institutional assets. Several—R. P. Blackmur (Federal Writers’ Project, Princeton, Rockefeller Foundation), John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate (Kenyon School of English), Archibald MacLeish (Librarian of Congress), and others—became administrators...

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