What Is The Nassau Literary Review?
The Nassau Literary Review is the second oldest undergraduate literary magazine in the nation and the oldest student publication at Princeton University. Since 1842, the Review has been an integral part of the Princeton artistic tradition, providing a forum for student writers, poets, and artists. It was in our pages that many of Princeton’s most celebrated alumni, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Galway Kinnell, and Jonathan Safran Foer, first published their work, and we continue to seek out the best literary and artistic talents on campus today.
Our mission is to provide a forum for student writers, poets, and artists.
SPREADING LOTS OF LIT LOVE in and beyond the bubble:
The Review seeks to inspire and develop the literary community in Princeton and beyond, both through the publication of high quality prose, poetry, and art, as well as by hosting a number of events and coordinating activities with the other arts groups on campus. This past year’s initiatives have included:
- Writing workshops Dinners and poetry/prose readings with famous authors
- Open-Mic Night with the Latino-Heritage Association
- Coffee House and Launch Party at Small World Coffee
- Writing & Arts Picnic at Grounds for Sculpture, a whimsical and inspiring outdoor sculpture garden
- Children’s Book Competition in conduction with the Stella Art Club
An Illustrious History and Grand Tradition (Courtesy of A Princeton Companion)
During the first few years, a large part of the Lit’s contents was the work of three writers — Theodore L. Cuyler 1841, George H. Boker 1842, and Charles G. Leland 1845.
Cuyler, who contributed frequent essays on European and American culture, also wrote “A Chapter on College Writing” that would have evoked an affirmative nod from many latter-day Lit editors:
“A college student should write often [he counseled]….In order to produce the highest effect, he must use short, simple, pointed words….Nor let him be content to write a composition once, but rewrite, and rewrite it again, until he is well assured that there is not a word in it which is not the very word, in the very place.‘”
Cuyler became a minister in Brooklyn, and wrote eleven books and many articles for the religious press. The Westminster, a Presbyterian periodical, called him “the greatest writer of spiritual English since John Bunyan.”
George H. Boker, the first editor, contributed numerous poems and essays to its early issues, and in later life published two volumes of poetry and wrote eleven plays, besides serving as United States Minister to Turkey and to Russia.
Charles G. Leland was the Lit’s most prolific contributor during the first four years. One piece of his that did not appear was his Educatio Diaboli, a ballad about Satan’s admission to Princeton, his involvement in student escapades, and his suspension by the faculty. In this work the poet’s allusions to members of the faculty are less complimentary than his references to the Devil, which may explain why the Lit denied itself the pleasure of its publication. All his life Leland published widely in a variety of fields, including gypsy lore and language, German literature, industrial arts, and sexual psychology, but he became best known for the many editions of his German-dialect Hans Breitmann’s Ballads.
The Lit carried brief reports of campus happenings until the Princetonian was founded in 1876. About this time some authors began signing their names to their contributions, and by the 1890s the use of pseudonyms and initials had disappeared.
In the early 1890s an informal literary club called the Coffee House provided a focal point for writers such as Jesse Lynch Williams 1892, Booth Tarkington 1893, and McCready Sykes 1894, during what was one of the Lit’s strongest periods. Williams was their leader, and Robert Bridges, who had been managing editor of the Lit in 1879, was a valuable older friend; as editor of Scribner’s Magazine he helped them and later generations of young Princeton writers break into print. Tarkington and Williams became Pulitzer Prize winners; Sykes won the affection of his Princeton contemporaries with his accounts — in which he mimicked Chaucerian styl~e — of Princeton football exploits in Poe’s Run and Other Poems (1904).
The Golden Age
A remarkable group of writers made the years 1912 to 1917 one of the most fruitful periods in the Lit’s history. Its leader was Edmund Wilson ’16, around whom campus writers gathered “by a law [Dean Christian Gauss said] of literary gravitation.” Other talented members included John Peale Bishop ’17, Scott Fitzgerald ’17, and John Biggs ’18.
The members of this inner circle exhibited qualities reminiscent of those of the original founders. Bishop was the same patrician poet in his day that Boker had been in his, both drawing much of their inspiration from European culture. Like Leland, Fitzgerald was an enfant terrible, although he was less well-read than Leland as an undergraduate and more successful as a writer in later life. Although their views and ultimate vocations were very different, Wilson shared Cuyler’s interest in having the right word in the right place, and went even further, desiring that “every word, every cadence, every detail should perform a definite function in producing an intense effect.”
In February 1942, the Lit brought out a 196-page centennial issue, reprinting specimens of poetry and prose from the previous century together with new articles by President Dodds, Jacques Maritain, Booth Tarkington 1893, Norman Thomas ’05, and others. For that issue Frederick Morgan ’43 and Richard M. Morse ’43 were cochairmen, Joseph D. Bennett ’43, managing editor. A few years later, Morgan, Bennett, and William Arrowsmith ’45 founded The Hudson Review,which became one of the best known and most respected American literary reviews.
In 1976 the Nassau Lit published another retrospective issue, featuring contributions from past Lit notables like Tarkington and Fitzgerald, as well as from more recent contributors, among them, poets William Meredith ’40, Galway M. Kinnell ’48, and W. S. Merwin ’48, authors George Garrett ’52 and John McPhee ’53, and artist Frank Stella ’58.