In Memoriam: Richard Clark Sterne, Historian of "The Nation"Historians in the News
tags: The Nation, Richard Clark Sterne
In the fall of 2014, I was helping to plan The Nation’s 150th anniversary issue, to be published the following summer. In the days before D.D. Guttenplan’s fast-paced account of our venerable publication, one of the few sources available about the magazine’s history was a long essay published 50 years earlier, in the 1965 centennial issue: “The Nation and Its Century,” by someone named Richard Clark Sterne.
The article explored the magazine’s political and cultural coverage in every major era of its existence: as a supporter and then critic of Reconstruction, as a weekly digest for gentlemen and scholars in the Gilded Age, as a leading voice of liberalism in the 1920s and 1930s, and as a guardian against McCarthyite excess in the early days of the first Cold War. Sterne had mastered not only The Nation’s evolving positions on a diverse array of domestic and foreign-policy questions, literary controversies, and emerging artistic movements, but also the contexts in which those positions were developed and the impact they had on the public conversation.
Curious about the author of the article, without which my understanding of the history of the magazine would have been woefully incomplete, I looked him up. Sterne, to my pleasant surprise, was alive and well. I booked a bus ticket to Boston, and found my way to his apartment in Brookline. For two hours or more, he, his wife Ruth (who died in 2017), and I sipped coffee, ate ice cream, and talked about the past—The Nation’s and his own.
Sterne was born in 1927 to a Jewish family of teachers in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His parents subscribed to The Nation, and he remembered, as a young boy, reading in its pages about the Spanish Civil War. Later, at Columbia University, he studied English with Mark Van Doren, a famous poet and critic who had served as literary editor and film reviewer for The Nation, and with Joseph Wood Krutch, its longtime drama critic. ...
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