The Singular Jim Kraft
Dr. James Kraft, who passed away at the beginning of November, was an absolute pillar of the Library’s programming for a number of years. A veteran professor of the University of Virginia, Université Laval in Quebec, and Wesleyan University, he published among other things the authoritative biography and editions of American poet Witter Bynner. His work on Bynner is available here in our collection.
Here in the Whitridge Room, Dr. Kraft offered fourteen seminars between 2009 and 2018, including several garnering so much demand that we had to split them into morning and afternoon sessions to fit everyone in the room. His subjects included detailed examinations of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, and The Ambassadors, writings of Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, E.M. Forster, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a moving overview of Literature of the Great War in connection with our 2014 World War I-related exhibition.
One of Dr. Kraft’s frequent attendees, Ephraim Lewis, told us that “it was great fun sparring with him....His guidance and expert analysis revealed much about [Henry] James that I had never known.”
With Wendy Power Spielmann, Dr. Kraft also brought us a lighthearted celebration of love poetry for National Poetry Month 2017, with readings and commentary. And in April 2009, he lectured in the Members’ Room on Henry James’s Washington Square – the Library’s observance of the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read.” Watch the video of that presentation here.
In “The Art of Fiction,” Henry James advised, “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” That well might be said of Jim Kraft, whose legacy will live on among those of us who worked with him or benefited from his insights – as well as on our Library shelves.