“Even while in nominal retirement, Louis D. Rubin, Jr., remains one of our most gifted literary analysts, his uncommon critical judgment working smoothly and surely at peak penetration.” So said Philip Parotti in a 2010 review of Louis D. Rubin, Jr.’s, book The Summer the Archduke Died: On War and Warriors. Rubin, who passed away recently, used this uncommon critical acumen in his long, illustrious career as a critic, teacher, novelist, essayist, editor, and publisher, and often in the service of the Sewanee Review.
By our count, across his fifty years writing for the Sewanee Review, Rubin published over seventy pieces for the magazine, including poetry, reviews, and remembrances. It is possible that some of those very pieces prompted the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to describe him as, “perhaps the person most responsible for the emergence of Southern literature as a field of scholarly inquiry.” His time writing for the magazine began in our fall 1954 issue with his review of The Mind of the South by W. J. Cash and ended with his essay “Encaustics: Marcel Proust: Editors, Biographers, Texts, and Translators,” which appeared in our spring 2004 number.
Rubin co-founded Algonquin Books, which began operations in 1983 out of a woodshed behind his home in Chapel Hill, NC. He wrote prolifically, turning out three novels, The Golden Weather (1961), Surfaces of a Diamond (1981), and The Heat of the Sun (1995); ten collections of history, memoir, and short-fiction; and sixteen volumes of literary criticism and history. In 2004 he received Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle.
Perhaps the most fitting testament to Louis D. Rubin, Jr.’s, influence on southern letters comes in a statement from Eudora Welty a peer in the Southern literary tradition. Speaking about reading Rubin’s 1981 novel, Surfaces of a Diamond, in her essay “Louis Rubin and the Making of Map,” which appeared in our spring 1989 issue, she says: “I found it occurring to me that Louis Rubin—critic, teacher, essayist, novelist, editor, publisher—is one thing more. He is a mapmaker himself, a mapmaker in all of them. A mapmaker is essentially he who has the eyes that see, the mind that holds the world in its fascinated focus, he who visualizes. He is able to invent, to reinvent, a country. Over the years this southerner has mapped out our literary terrain.”
Keep an eye out for a tribute to Rubin written by William Harmon in our upcoming winter 2014 issue.