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University of Iowa News Release


March 3, 2011

UI Press releases 'Building Their Own Waldos' March 15

The University of Iowa Press will release "Building Their Own Waldos: Emerson's First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age" by Robert D. Habich on March 15.

The book will be available at bookstores or directly from the press, 800-621-2736 or Customers in Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from Eurospan Group at It is also available as a pdf e-book:

Drawing on never-before-published letters, diaries, drafts, business records and private documents, Habich explores the making of a cultural hero through the stories of Emerson’s first biographers:

--George Willis Cooke, a minister who considered himself a disciple.
--English reformer and newspaper mogul Alexander Ireland, a friend of Emerson for half a century.
--Moncure D. Conway, a Southern abolitionist who called Emerson his “spiritual father and intellectual teacher.”
--Poet and medical professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, a member with Emerson of Boston’s literary elite, the Saturday Club.
--James Elliot Cabot, the family’s authorized biographer, an architect and amateur philosopher with unlimited access to Emerson’s unpublished papers.
--Emerson’s son Edward, a physician and painter whose father had passed over him as literary executor in favor of Cabot.

"Building Their Own Waldos" is a case study in the rewards and dangers of Victorian life-writing and the story of six authors struggling amidst personal misfortunes and shifting expectations to capture the elusive character of America’s “representative man” as they knew him and as they needed him to be.

Calling it "an important, appealing book," Robert D. Richardson, author of "First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process" and "Emerson: The Mind on Fire," wrote "'Building Their Own Waldos' is American literary scholarship at its finest.

"Working mostly from a large range of previously untapped sources, Bob Habich tells the story of the first six biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Almost everything about this story is new and all of it is fascinating; Habich writes extremely well, and he has fresh things to say about Emerson, about the state of biographical art in the 1880s, and about the growth of the American cult of celebrity."

Habich is a professor of English at Ball State University and president-elect of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society. He is co-author of "Romanticism and Transcendentalism, 1820–1865," editor of "Lives out of Letters: Essays on American Literary Biography and Documentation in Honor of Robert N. Hudspeth" and author of "Transcendentalism and the 'Western Messenger': A History of the Magazine and Its Contributors, 1835–1841."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: UI Press: Winston Barclay, University News Services,