About Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk

For more than forty years, Russell Kirk was in the thick of the intellectual controversies of his time. He is the author of some thirty-two books, hundreds of periodical essays, and many short stories. Both Time and Newsweek have described him as one of America’s leading thinkers, and The New York Times acknowledged the scale of his influence when in 1998 it wrote that Kirk’s 1953 book The Conservative Mind “gave American conservatives an identity and a genealogy and catalyzed the postwar movement.”

Dr. Kirk wrote and spoke on modern culture, political thought and practice, educational theory, literary criticism, ethical questions, and social themes. He addressed audiences on hundreds of American campuses and appeared often on television and radio.

Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr.

Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr.

He edited the educational quarterly journal The University Bookman and was founder and first editor of the quarterly Modern Age. He contributed articles to numerous serious periodicals on either side of the Atlantic. For a quarter of a century he wrote a page on education for National Review, and for thirteen years published, through the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, a nationally syndicated newspaper column. Over the years he contributed to more than a hundred serious periodicals in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, and Poland, among them Sewanee Review, Yale Review, Fortune, Humanitas, The Contemporary Review, The Journal of the History of Ideas, World Review, Crisis, History Today, Policy Review, Commonweal, Kenyon Review, The Review of Politics, and The World and I.

He is the only American to hold the highest arts degree (earned) of the senior Scottish university—doctor of letters of St. Andrews. He received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his master’s degree from Duke University. He received honorary doctorates from twelve American universities and colleges.

Kirk and Ronald Reagan

He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a senior fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, a Constitutional Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Fulbright Lecturer in Scotland. The Christopher Award was conferred upon him for his book Eliot and His Age, and he received the Ann Radcliffe Award of the Count Dracula Society for his Gothic Fiction. The Third World Fantasy Convention gave him its award for best short fiction for his short story, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding.” In 1984 he received the Weaver Award of the Ingersoll Prizes for his scholarly writing. For several years he was a Distinguished Scholar of the Heritage Foundation. In 1989, President Reagan conferred on him the Presidential Citizens Medal. In 1991, he was awarded the Salvatori Prize for historical writing.

More than a million copies of Kirk’s books have been sold, and several have been translated in German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Korean, and other languages. His second book, The Conservative Mind (1953), is one of the most widely reviewed and discussed studies of political ideas in this century and has gone through seven editions. Seventeen of his books are in print at present, and he has written prefaces to many other books, contributed essays to them, or edited them.

Kirk and Malcolm Muggeridge

Kirk and Malcolm Muggeridge

Dr. Kirk debated with such well-known speakers as Norman Thomas, Frank Mankiewicz, Carey McWilliams, John Roche, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Michael Harrington, Max Lerner, Michael Novak, Sidney Lens, William Kunstler, Hubert Humphrey, F. A. Hayek, Karl Hess, Clifford Case, Ayn Rand, Eugene McCarthy, Leonard Weinglass, Louis Lomax, Harold Taylor, Clark Kerr, Saul Alinsky, Staughton Lynd, Malcolm X, Dick Gregory, and Tom Hayden. Several of his public lectures have been broadcast nationally on C-SPAN.

Among Kirk’s literary and scholarly friends were T. S. Eliot, Roy Campbell, Wyndham Lewis, Donald Davidson, George Scott-Moncrieff, Richard Weaver, Max Picard, Ray Bradbury, Bernard Iddings Bell, Paul Roche, James McAuley, Thomas Howard, Wilhem Roepke, Robert Speaight, Anthony Kerrigan, Robert Nisbet, Malcolm Muggeridge, Flannery O’Connor, William F. Buckley, Jr., Andrew Lytle, Henry Regnery, Robert Graves, and Cleanth Brooks.

Russell Kirk outside his Library

Kirk outside his library at Piety Hill, 1993

Kirk was born near the railroad yards at Plymouth, Michigan, in 1918 and lived much of his life at his ancestral place, Piety Hill, in Mecosta, Michigan—a little village in the stump-country. There he converted a toy factory into his library and office. His Italianate house is adorned with sculpture and architectural antiques snatched from the maws of the urban renewers of western Michigan. At home he was a famous narrator of ghostly tales, many of them picked up during his travels (often afoot) in Scotland and Ireland, Mediterranean and Alpine lands, and Africa.

For nearly thirty years Kirk was married to Annette Yvonne Cecile Courtemanche; they had four daughters: Monica, Cecilia, Felicia, and Andrea. Their tall house was often crowded with Asiatic, African, and European refugees and exiles and also with university students, travelers from antique lands, and congeries of fugitives from Progress. In conjunction with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Wilbur Foundation, Russell and Annette Kirk held frequent seminars at their residence and received several literary interns every year. Annette Kirk was an active member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and is now President of the Russell Kirk Center.

Dr. Kirk passed away on April 29, 1994. His work is continued by the Russell Kirk Center.

The moral imagination is the principal possession that man does not share with the beasts. It is man’s power to perceive ethical truth, abiding law, in the seeming chaos of many events. Without the moral imagination, man would live merely day to day, or rather moment to moment, as dogs do. It is the strange faculty—inexplicable if men are assumed to have an animal nature only—of discerning greatness, justice, and order, beyond the bars of appetite and self-interest.

Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969

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Highlights

Roots in Russian

Newsletter coverThe Spring 2018 Permanent Things Newsletter is now available. News items include an announcement of Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order recently published in Russian for the first time. Translator Dr. Marina Kizima, a professor at Moscow State Institute, was a Wilbur Fellow at the Kirk Center while researching and writing on American literature, culture, and intellectual traditions.

May 2018

In Memoriam: Sally Sluhan Wright (1947–2018)

Sally Wright, a long-time family friend of the Kirks and the Kirk Center, passed away on June 15, 2018. Her father Clyde Sluhan, founder of Master Chemical Company in Ohio, and his wife Marian were great friends of Russell Kirk. The Sluhans exchanged many visits with the Kirks and on one occasion brought Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the Russian-English writer and politician, to visit the Kirks.

Sally was a prolific writer of mystery novels and an Edgar Alan Poe Award Finalist. Sally’s Ben Reese series chronicles the investigations of a WWII Ranger turned academic archivist in six mysteries that unfold in Britain, the U.S., and Italy where he researches arcane artifacts while seeking some sort of justice for the victims of unsolved murders. In her Jo Grant mystery series, the story is driven by the conflicts and emotional connections in three family businesses in the horse industry in Kentucky in the early 1960s. The University Bookman reviewed both series in an essay called “The Moral Imagination in the Mystery Novels of Sally Wright” by Ashlee Cowles.

Reviewers have compared her work to that of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. Sally said that her literary influences ranged from all of those to Tolstoy and Jane Austen. “And yet it’s C. S. Lewis who’s probably influenced me most, through the whole body of his work, as a thinker, a person, and a writer,” she wrote. “In his Chronicles of Narnia and his metaphysical novels, The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters, he uses popular fiction to talk about what T. S. Eliot called ‘the permanent things’—consideration of morality, of origin, and spiritual meaning. It was those books that started me thinking about writing mysteries to begin with.”

Sally and her husband Joe were stalwart supporters of the Kirk Center. In honor of her memory, the Kirk Center is featuring the extensive personal interview that Sally conducted with Dr. Kirk.

Jun 2018

Undergraduate and Graduate Student Seminars This Spring

For a long weekend in March, Hillsdale College Honors Students gathered at the Kirk Center to explore the theme “Man as Maker in Moral Perspective.” Professor of Classics Eric Hutchinson guided the students on the complex topics of transhumanism and cloning, followed by readings from Ray Bradbury’s science fiction stories. Although the March winds deterred students from an afternoon walk, they rounded out the weekend with piano-playing and singing at the Kirk house.

Hillsdale Seminar March 2018

On April 26–29, the Kirk Center welcomes this year’s recipients of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s prestigious Richard M. Weaver Fellowships for a seminar about Plato’s writings on education, sponsored by The Liberty Fund of Indianapolis. Since 1964, the Weaver Fellowship Program has identified and supported graduate students committed to freedom-oriented teaching at the college level. This year, fifteen students from across the country were selected as Weaver Fellows. Dr. David Corey, professor of Political Science at Baylor University, and Dr. Richard Gamble, professor of history at Hillsdale College, will lead the discussions.

Apr 2018