Michael Dirda

MichaelMichael Dirda, a writer and former senior editor for The Washington Post Book World, was born in Lorain,Ohio on November 6, 1948. His reviews or essays for The Washington Post appeared weekly, and addressed a broad range of interests: classics in translation, intellectual history, children's picture books, fantasy and crime fiction, biographies, American and European literature, poetry, and innovative writing of all kinds. In his monthly Readings column he touched on all kinds of bookish matters collecting modern firsts, rediscovering neglected novels, the pleasures of ghost stories, the teaching of writing and much else, most of it at least semi-autobiographical. He presently writes a weekly online column for washingtonpost.com called "Dirda on Books".

Dirda received a scholarship to Oberlin College, from which he graduated with Highest Honors in English (1970). The following year he taught English in Marseille, France on a Fulbright grant. From 1971-1975, Dirda attended graduate school at Cornell University through an NDEA Title IV fellowship in comparative literature. At Cornell he specialized in medieval studies and European romanticism, and there received honorable mention in the Corson French Prize (essay on Baudelaire) and the Goethe German Prize (essay on Heinrich von Morungen). He earned an M.A. in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1977. His dissertation focused on the autobiographical impulse in the French writer Stendhal.

Before joining Book World in 1978, Dirda taught world literature at American University and George Mason University, and worked as a free-lance writer, translator and editor. Over the years he has contributed essays, profiles and reviews to a variety of publications - Smithsonian Magazine, Civilization, Encarta, Connoisseur, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Collier's Encyclopedia Yearbook, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, etc. For three years he was a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. He frequently conducts public conversations with visiting writers for the Smithsonian Institution, most recently with Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, crime novelist Donald E. Westlake, and Gore Vidal. He has also contributed lengthy biographical-critical essays to scholarly volumes on detective fiction (John Dickson Carr, Edmund Crispin) and science fiction and fantasy (The European Tradition in Supernatural Fiction, Jack Vance, Maupassant). Dirda also frequently talks to universities, schools and civic groups about literary journalism. He has written a short paperback, distributed by the Book of the Month Club, called Caring for Your Books, and the recent Readings; Essays and Literary Entertainments (Indiana University Press). Other book projects are also in the works.

Honors and Awards:

  • 1970-1971 - Fulbright fellowship to France
  • 1990-1993 - Board member, The National Book Critics Circle
  • 1993 - Received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism
  • 1993 - Named by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the 25 Smartest People in Washington , D.C.
  • 1995 - Received a Washington Post/Duke University Fellowship
  • 1996 - Washington Post/Duke University Fellow
  • 1997 - Was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from Washington College, Chesterfield , Maryland.
  • 1999 - Was a visiting master artist in literary journalism at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach.
  • 1999 - Was the Distinguished Visiting Honors Lecturer at the University of Central Florida.
  • 1977 - Honorary doctorate of letters, Washington College
  • 1999 - Master Artist (literary journalism), The Atlantic Center for the Arts
  • 1999 to Present - National Council Member, The Atlantic Center for the Arts
  • 2001 - Chair of Biography Jury for the Pulitzer Prize
  • 2002 - Master of Ceremonies, The Pen-Faulkner Award for Fiction
  • 2003 - Winner of the Ohioana Award for Nonfiction
  • 2003 - Appeared as one of the featured "History and Biography" authors at the Library of Congress National Book Festival discussing his memoir, An Open Book
  • 2004 – Commencement speaker for American School in Lugano, Switzerland
  • 2005 - Shortlisted finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Current Affairs

Other Work Experience:

  • Technical writer, Scientific Time Sharing Corporation (1977-78).
  • Translator (French to English)
  • Bricklayer's helper
  • Laborer in a steel mill
  • Fuller Brush salesman
  • Aluminum siding and storm window installer
  • Floor cleaner in a bar
  • Farm hand

Dirda is a member of The Baker Street Irregulars, The Ghost Story Society, The P.G. Wodehouse Society, The Arthur Machen Society, The American Antiquarian Association, and American PEN.  His pastimes are daydreaming, classical music and book collecting.

He is married to Marian Peck Dirda.  His wife is an Art Conservator for the National Gallery of Art; she specializes in the care of prints and drawings. They live, with their three sons, Christopher, Michael, Nathaniel in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Books and Monographs:

  • Caring for your Books, 1990.
  • A Celebration of Writing (10 essay reviews reprinted in booklet form by The Washington Post, 1993)
  • Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainment, 2000.
  • An Odyssey in Print: Adventures in the Smithsonian Libraries (2002)
  • Looking for a Good Time: Reading, Libraries and the World of Books (Oberlin College Press, 2002 - printed lecture)
  • An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland, 2003. (Mostly about growing up in Lorain, this book was the Winner of the Ohioana Award for Non-Fiction in 2003.)
  • Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-volume Literary Education: Essays on Great Writers and Their Books, 2005.
  • Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2006)
  • Classics for Pleasure (Fall, 2007)
  • On Conan Doyle, Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling (2012)
  • Browsings :  A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books (2015)

Other Publications:

  • The Poetry of William Empson (Honors Thesis for Oberlin College, 1970)
  • On Beyle's Strand: A Study in Autobiography (Dissertation for Cornell University, 1977)
  • Annual contributor, "The Year in American Literature": to Collier's Encyclopedia Yearbook (1982-1998)
  • Afterword: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (Signet, 1984)
  • Annual contributor,  "The Year in American Poetry": The World Book Encyclopedia Yearbook (1990-1998)
  • "Libraries" in The Washington Post Guide to Washington (1990)
  • "The Continental Tradition in Horror and the Supernatural" in The Penguin Guide to Horror and the Supernatural, edited by Jack Sullivan (Penguin, 1986)
  • Lengthy scholarly articles on Balzac, Merimee, Maupassant and Jack Vance for Fantasy and Supernatural Fiction, (Scribner),  edited by E.F. Bleiler (1990)
  • Long scholarly articles on mystery writers John Dickson Carr and Edmund Crispin for Crime and Mystery Writers, edited by Robin W. Winks (1998)
  • "P.G. Wodehouse and the Critics" in Plum Lines (1999)
  • "On Looking over My Notes: Some Reflections on Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars" in The Baker Street Journal (Summer 2000)
  • Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainment (2001) - (Video-recording: Appearance by Michael Dirda at the Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C., Feb. 18, 2001. Includes readings from his book Readings: essays and literary entertainment, and discussion of attending Oberlin College and his career as a journalist and author.)
  • Introduction to Crome Yellow, by Aldous Huxley (Dalkey Archive, 2001)
  • Introductory essay ("Realm of Wonders") to An Odyssey in Print: Adventures in the Smithsonian Libraries (Smithsonian, 2002)
  • Introduction to Red Cavalry, by Isaac Babel (Norton, 2002)
  • "Sweet Lorain," an essay included in A Certain Somewhere: Writers on The Places They Remember (2002)
  • "Dukedom Large Enough" (short story for All-Hallows, Journal of the Ghost Story Society, October, 2004)
  • The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, 2004. (Dirda was a member of the editorial board for this book.)
  • Introduction: The Collected Jorkens, Vol. 3, by Lord Dunsany (Night Shade Books, 2005)
  • Preface to The Horror of the Heights, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Facsimile edition/Calabash Press, 2004)
  • Preface to The Captain of the Pole-Star, and Other Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle (Ash-Tree Press, 2004)
  • Foreword, The Nibelungenlied, translated by Burton Raffel (Yale, 2006)
  • Foreword, Shakespeare’s Lives, by S. Schoenbaum (Barnes & Noble, 2006)
  • Introduction: Diary of a Seducer, by Soren Kierkegaard (Continuum, 2006)
  • Introduction: The Manticore, by Robertson Davies (Penguin, 2006)
  • "Sweet Lorain," an essay included in Good Roots: Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio (2007)
  • Introduction, Dante: Poet of the Secular World, by Erich Auerbach (New York Review Books, 2007

More Information:

Interview with Michael Dirda - "Washington Is a Terrific Place If You're a Serious Reader."

Ohioana Authors: Michael Dirda