J. Donald Adams

1891 –

James Donald Adams, a journalist, critic, editor, and author, was born on September 24, 1891, in New York City. He was the son of James Adams and Mary Louise (née Barron). He earned a BA from Harvard University in 1913 and, while there, both edited The Harvard Monthly and contributed essays, fiction, and poetry to the journal. Around the time that Adams graduated, he also published poetry in other journals and magazines: The Outlook, The Bellman, Sunset, and The Dial

Adams is the author of numerous works of literary criticism, including The Magic and Mystery of Words (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963); Literary Frontiers (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1951); The Writer’s Responsibility (Secker & Warburg, 1946); and The Shape of Books to Come (Viking Press, 1944). He also wrote Copey of Harvard: A Biography of Charles Townsend Copeland (Houghton Mifflin, 1960), a profile of one of Harvard’s most illustrious professors who, in addition to Adams, was a former instructor of T. S. Eliot. Adams’s editorial work included several anthologies, such as Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Crowell, 1965). 

Adams is primarily known for his work with newspapers. In 1915, he secured his first job as a newspaper journalist in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1920, he returned to New York and wrote for both the New York Sun and the New York Herald. For the latter, he penned one of the newspaper’s first columns, “The Whispering Gallery.” In 1924, Adams joined the New York Times, first as an assistant editor at The Book Review, then managed by Brooks Atkinson, and later, in 1925, as editor of the review after Atkinson became the newspaper’s drama critic. Adams held the editorial position until 1943 when he became contributing editor and, finally, the columnist for “Speaking of Books,” a weekly that he contributed to the New York Times Book Review until 1964. For the column, Adams contributed around nine hundred essays. 

Aside from his literary and journalistic career, Adams also worked as a rodman, or surveyor’s assistant, for the U.S. Geological Survey after graduating from Harvard. From 1945 to 1946, he was a literary advisor at the publisher E. P. Dutton. In addition to serving as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Adams was a member of the PEN Club, The Authors Guild, and the Authors League Fund. He also served as the president of the Poetry Society of America. 

Adams died on August 22, 1968, in New York City.