The Man Behind the Scenes


Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.


If you’ve ever been to a performance of the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York or gazed at the collection in Museum of Modern Art, you owe a tremendous debt to Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996). In the same way, if you’ve found yourself lost in the splendors of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Richard Blackmur, or W.H. Auden, you owe a debt to Lincoln Kirstein. While Kirstein became most famous for his involvement in ballet—he founded the magazine Dance Index and he brought the now-famous choreographer George Balanchine (Georgi Balanchivadze) to America—he also was instrumental in introducing modernism to America and in ferreting out American modernists and their contributions to a growing arts movement. Due in part to his family fortune—his father owned the Boston-based department store Filene’s—and to his own generosity and commitment to fostering and preserving the arts in society, Kirstein helped create Lincoln Center and City Center in New York City, as well as founding the American School of Ballet and the New York City Ballet. As an undergraduate at Harvard, though, he started the famous literary magazine Hound and Horn, publishing writers like Pound and Eliot, Stephen Spender, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Edmund Wilson, and carrying the early photographs of Walker Evans (who later gained fame for his photographs of Southern sharecroppers in his and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men). He also founded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art, largely viewed as the precursor of the Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) in New York City. Consumed by his passion for the arts and his desire to make them an integral part of modern society, Kirsten worked frenetically and tirelessly in his efforts to accomplish this.

Martin Duberman, whose previous biographies of James Russell Lowell and Paul Robeson and whose study of the Black Mountain poets have intimately captured their subjects, here splendidly captures Kirstein’s energy, his majestic writings, and his often tortured personal life. The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein (Knopf; $37.50) draws primarily on Kirstein’s own diaries, journals, letters, and books, as well as interviews with Kirstein’s friends and colleagues. Duberman provides not only a magisterial biography of Kirstein but also a first-rate cultural history of mid-twentieth century New York. Duberman’s biography probes Kirstein’s ambivalence toward his Judaism, his homosexuality, and his family, thereby creating a portrait of a man whose private life and public lives often overlapped but whose energies were directed to the greater good of the community.

In this season of the year during which almost every town’s ballet company performs Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Duberman’s luscious and fascinating book provides insights into the man who brought the ballet master to America. Duberman is not shy about exploring Kirstein’s shortcomings, and his account of Kirstein’s life judiciously balances hagiography and biography. This richly-layered book chronicles the genius, the financial power, and the tenacious commitment to the arts that drove Kirstein’s life and work. Duberman’s sprawling biography matches the legendary story of this rambunctious American genius. Carry this book with you to your next performance of The Nutcracker in order to appreciate the genius, the devotion, and the commitment that made it possible for this well-loved Christmas spectacular to dominate the American ballet scene in the way that it has today.

Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Henry can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Contact Us || Site Map || || Article Search || © 2006 - 2012 BiblioBuffet