Lorain Public Library System - Local Author Biography
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Michael 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.