The Yale Review: a History

The Yale Review traces its history back to 1819, when a group of Yale faculty members started a quarterly journal then known as The Christian Spectator. It was later renamed The New Englander and its contents were broadened to matters beyond theology. In 1892, the magazine changed its name again, and this time the new editor—Henry Walcott Farnam, professor of economics at Yale—changed its focus more decisively. He called it The Yale Review, and devoted its pages to the discussion of national and international politics, economics, history, and history.

The modern history of the journal, though, really began under an umbrella in 1911. Crossing the campus one day in a rainstorm, Wilbur Cross ducked under the umbrella of Yale’s president, Arthur Twining Hadley, and outlined to him plans for a new and greater Yale Review. The president was enthusiastic. When Cross assumed the editorship and launched a new series of the journal, he was a member of the English Department at Yale, and had recently published a popular biography of Laurence Sterne. In the years that followed, he served as dean of the graduate school, chancellor of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was four times elected governor of Connecticut. During all that time, for thirty years, he stayed on as editor of The Yale Reviewand transformed the journal into the nation’s leading university quarterly.

“One of the most important services an editor can render to his readers,” he once wrote, “is to keep the road open for candid statements of different standpoints from writers of exceptional ability, and to let these writers present their material as their own consciences and minds may direct.” To that end Cross set out vigorously to attract the best writers from around the world. Thomas Mann, Henry Adams, Virginia Woolf, George Santayana, Robert Frost, José Ortega y Gasset, Eugene O’Neill, Leon Trotsky, H.G. Wells, Thomas Wolfe, John Maynard Keynes, H.L. Mencken, A.E. Housman, Ford Madox Ford, Wallace Stevens—these are just a few of the names found regularly among the contributors to The Yale Review in those years.

After Cross’s resignation, the magazine had a succession of distinguished editors: Helen MacAfee, David Morris Potter, and Paul Pickrel. In 1954, John J.E. Palmer began a twenty-five-year-long term as editor and extended the journal’s rich tradition of literary excellence by publishing W.H. Auden, Robert Lowell, Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter, Erik Erikson, William Maxwell, Randall Jarrell, John Hersey, John Berryman, and many others.

However, not all the names are famous when they first appear in the Review’s pages. John Cheever, Eudora Welty, and Elizabeth Hardwick were beginners when their early stories were first accepted. Walter Lippmann was a twenty-five-year-old cub reporter when he was asked to review a book for the Review. Archibald MacLeish and Stephen Vincent Benet were still undergraduates when their first poems appeared.

In 1979, the eminent sociologist Kai Erikson took over as editor and broadened the range of the magazine’s interests. He brought to its pages Bayard Rustin, Gregory Bateson, Noel Annan, Julian Barnes, Hortense Calisher, Seamus Heaney, Edmund S. Morgan, Stanley Cavell, R.W.B. Lewis, Joyce Carol Oates, Edward Gorey, Helen Vendler, Stephen Jay Gould, Robert Fitzgerald, John Hollander, Amy Clampitt, James Merrill, John Ashbery, and Adrienne Rich, among others

Erikson was succeeded as editor by Penelope Laurans in 1989, and after the publication of the journal was briefly suspended the poet and critic J.D. McClatchy was named editor in 1991, a position which he held until 2017. He was succeeded by acting editor Harold Augenbraum.

Like Yale’s schools of music, drama, and architecture, like its libraries and art galleries, The Yale Review has helped give the University its leading place in American education. In a land of quick fixes and short view and in a time of increasingly commercial publishing, the journal has an authority that derives from its commitment to bold established writers and promising newcomers, to both challenging literary work and a range of essays and reviews that can explore the connections between academic disciplines and the broader movements in American society, thought, and culture. With independence and boldness, with a concern for issues and ideas, with a respect for the mind’s capacity to be surprised by speculation and delighted by elegance, The Yale Review proudly continues into its third century.