Editor, novelist, essayist, teacher, and publisher Louis D. Rubin, Jr. (1923-2013) had an immeasurable effect on a generation of North Carolina writers and readers. The teacher whose former students include such noted Southern writers as Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, John Barth, and Kaye Gibbons was himself a respected writer of literary criticism, essays, history, biographies, and novels. He readily acknowledged his debt to the students he taught over the years. “I can’t very well work in a vacuum,” he once told a reporter. “I’m a teacher. I can’t write something until I actually deal with it with my students.”
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Louis Rubin spent two years at the College of Charleston and received his BA in history from the University of Richmond after serving in the United States Army during World War II. He earned his MA and Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University. In 1953, while still at Johns Hopkins, he co-edited his first book, Southern Renascence, a work which established him as a major figure in Southern literature, and in 1955 published Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His Youth. He continued to write prolifically, publishing forty books since those first two. Before settling on an academic career, Louis Rubin worked as a journalist for newspapers and the Associated Press in Hackensack, New Jersey; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore; and Staunton and Richmond in Virginia. He wrote two hours a day and credited this newspaper background with his ability to produce rapidly. “On a newspaper you do the best you can and you get it out,” he has said. “You don’t hold it forever. It’s a matter of discipline. I’ve found it very valuable.”
Louis Rubin came to the University of North Carolina in 1967, following two years at the University of Pennsylvania and ten at Hollins College in Virginia, where he chaired the English department for several years. He remained on UNC’s English faculty for twenty-two years, retiring from teaching in 1989 as University Distinguished Professor of English, later Emeritus. He left teaching in order to devote his energies full time to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. In 1983, Rubin founded the press, recognizing the difficulties talented young writers have encountered in getting published, saying that he saw no reason why there should not be a “good full-fledged nationally-oriented trade publishing house in the South” to showcase Southern writers.
Louis Rubin was married to the former Eva Redfield, who teaches political science at North Carolina State University. They had two sons, Robert Alden and William Louis. Rubin is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Sewanee Review, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Oliver Max Gardner Award; the Mayflower Award; the Distinguished Virginian Award; and honorary degrees from the University of Richmond, the College of Charleston, and Clemson University. He received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 1992 and, most recently, the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for lifetime contributions to the literary heritage of North Carolina. His interests outside of literature included fishing, classical music, and baseball. “He became something of a literary hero to me even before I met him,” declared Clyde Edgerton. “After I met him, I respected him even more.”
Read Louis Rubin’s interview with Robert Penn Warren published in The American South: Portrait of a Culture (LSU Press, 1980):
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Download an excerpt of Louis Rubin’s Uptown/Downtown in Old Charleston (The University of South Carolina Press).