Life and Career

David S. Reynolds was born in Providence, Rhode Island and grew up in nearby West Barrington. His father, Paul R. Reynolds, sold life insurance. His mother, Adelaide K. Reynolds, was an artist who designed greeting cards and taught art classes at home and, briefly, at the Rhode Island School of Design. During much of his childhood, the family home was the Nayatt Point Lighthouse on Narragansett Bay. David Reynolds attended the Providence Country Day School, where he later taught for a year after his graduation from college. He received the B.A. magna cum laude from Amherst College and the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught American literature and American Studies at Northwestern University, Barnard College, New York University, Rutgers University, Baruch College, the Sorbonne-Paris III, and, currently, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he is a Distinguished Professor. He is a member of the Graduate Center’s programs in English, History, Comparative Literature, and Biography and Memoir.

Reynolds is the author or editor of sixteen books. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, John Hope Franklin Prize (Honorable Mention), and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  He has been interviewed on PBS, NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “Fresh Air,” “Weekend Edition,” “The Diane Re hm Show,” ABC’s “The John Batchelor Show,” C-SPAN’s “After Words,” Brian Lamb’s “Book Notes,” “Book TV,” “The Takeaway,” and “The Leonard Lopate Show.”  He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The Wall Street Journal. He is included in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, and Who’s Who in American Education. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Huffington Post.

A critic, historian, and biographer, Reynolds explores the cross-fertilization between culture, biography, society, and politics.

In biography, Reynolds places figures like Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Walt Whitman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe in their era, showing how their thoughts and motivations were profoundly shaped by their contexts. In the field of criticism, Reynolds argues that America’s classic literature is defined by its radical openness to a dazzling variety of cultural currents, which are interwoven in such unforgettable symbols as Melville’s white whale, Hawthorne’s scarlet letter, Poe’s raven, and Whitman’s grass leaves.  Reynolds also brings attention to numerous long-neglected noncanonical authors. In the field of history, Reynolds pursues the implications Lincoln’s idea that “He who molds public sentiment is greater than he who makes statutes.” Reynolds reveals the importance of influential outliers who have altered public opinion and thus have had a profound impact on many aspects of American life.

David S. Reynolds is descended from the following 22 Mayflower passengers:

William Brewster, Mary (Unknown) Brewster, Love Brewster, William Mullins, Alice (Unknown) Mullins, Priscilla (Mullins) Alden, John Alden, Richard Warren, John Tilley, John Howland, Joan Hurst, James Chilton, Mrs. (Unkown) Chilton, Mary Chilton, Susanna Jackson, William White, Peregrine White, Elizabeth Tilley, Francis Cooke, Stephen Hopkins, Elizabeth Fisher, and Edward Doty.

Reynolds’s wife, whose professional name is Suzanne Nalbantian, is a professor of comparative literature at Long Island University who specializes in the interdisciplinary relationship between literature and neuroscience.   Her books include Memory in Literature From Rousseau to Neuroscience, The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives (coedited with Paul M. Matthews and James B. McClelland), Secrets of Creativity: What Neuroscience, the Arts, and Our Minds Reveal (coedited with Paul M. Matthews), and Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Anais Nin.


External links:

Interview with David S. Reynolds about Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times and Apple TV+’s “Lincoln’s Dilemma,” CUNY Graduate Center Newsletter, February 9, 2022

Profile of David S. Reynolds, “Who’s Here,” Dan’s Papers, August 14, 2015.

CUNY Graduate Center Faculty Page.

Wikipedia bio.


Distinguished Professor David S. Reynolds
Ph.D. Program in English
CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016

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