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Paul Goodman Biography

(1911–72), Growing Up Absurd, Ten Lyric Poems, The Empire City

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Ellen Gilchrist Biography to Grain

American novelist, playwright, poet, and social and educational commentator, born in New York City, educated at City College, New York, and the University of Chicago. Although Growing Up Absurd (1960) brought Goodman a wide readership, his earliest writings, chiefly drama and verse, were published in the 1930s (the first volume of verse, Ten Lyric Poems, appeared in 1934) and he continued to publish poetry and plays throughout his long career as a scholar and a writer. His fiction dates from the 1940s and is notable for its articulation of the political radicalism that informs so much of his social and educational writings, particularly in The Empire City (1959) which is concerned with the life of New York City from about 1930 to 1950. His interest in the problems of the city, and urban life in general, is reflected in one of his major works of social philosophy, Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life (1947; revised edition 1960), co-written with his brother Percival Goodman. This preoccupation with the terms and conditions of modern life is at the centre of Growing Up Absurd, where the study of youth and the associated problems of juvenile delinquency takes the form of a plea for a kind of intellectual and utopian anarchism which echoes Thoreau's belief that life is more ennobling and enriching when freed from the encroachments of the state; this work found its natural audience in the disaffected student radicals of the 1960s. Later important works of social thought include Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (1962), The Moral Ambiguity of America (1966), and New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative (1970). It is a testimony to the range and intellectual rigour of his thinking that his works in adjacent fields, such as Gestalt Therapy (1951) and The Structure of Literature (1954), are still read and admired. His verse has been collected in Collected Poems (1974), edited by Taylor Stoehr, and his short stories in four volumes of Collected Stories (197880), also edited by Taylor Stoehr. He taught at various colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Black Mountain College, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Wisconsin, and was film editor for Partisan Review and television critic for New Republic. See Goodman (1980), by Kingsley Widmer.

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