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Anthony Cuda in historic project to compile, annotate all of T.S. Eliot’s prose

Photo of Dr. Anthony CudaWhen you think of Nobel prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot, you likely think of poems such as “The Waste Land.”

Sure, it’s considered the most important of the 20th century, but poems were actually a tiny portion of his published works.

Dr. Anthony Cuda, associate professor of English at UNCG, has engaged in an historic, immense project that will change how the readers around the world regard Eliot. Cuda is co-editor of a volume in the first undertaking to assemble all of Eliot’s non-fiction prose writings.

He and Dr. Ronald Schuchard, emeritus professor of English at Emory University, are co-editors of a 990 page volume collecting and annotating all of Eliot’s essays and literary reviews between 1919-1926. This volume 2 of “The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition” is subtitled “The Perfect Critic, 1919-1926.”

Most of Eliot’s non-fiction prose has remained uncollected, which means hundreds of items have not been republished since their first appearance in newspapers and magazines nearly a century ago. Many scholars do not know of these pieces, some of which are rare and inaccessible.

During the seven pivotal years from 1919 to 1926, Eliot suffered a nervous breakdown, wrote “The Waste Land,” and became one of the foremost literary critics in England, Cuda explains. Now you can see his views during these years on other writers and their works. “Volume two is largely literary criticism and reviews. Other volumes will feature his writings on religion, politics, culture, etc. – they will reveal just how broad his intellectual commitments ranged.

“I think it’s going to transform how people view Eliot,” Cuda says. Until now, a few essays have been widely read and deeply influential, such as “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “The Metaphysical Poets” and “Hamlet.” But these provide a deceptively limited viewpoint.

“We’ve been looking through a crack in the glass.” Only a sliver of his writings had been in print. “This is going to reveal for readers the whole window.”

Volumes 1 and 2 – at about 900 pages each – will be available online at Project Muse, accessible by subscription. Volume 1 consists of materials he wrote as a student at Harvard and of his early literary reviewing in London. The official launch is Eliot’s birthday, Sept. 26, 2014.

The eight-volume set will ultimately be available in hardcopy. Johns Hopkins University Press is the publisher.

“Eliot comes alive in these pages. You see an immense body of work written in the heat of the moment.” Cuda says.

The edition is receiving widespread and international attention, with full-page ads appearing last month in The New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement.

Cuda will attend the annual Eliot Society meeting in St. Louis – Eliot’s hometown – in September, where the new volumes will be spotlighted.

It was quite an honor to be asked to take part in the project. Most others involved in this historic endeavor are much further in their careers.

Cuda had impressed internationally renowned Eliot scholar Ronald Schuchard when he wrote his dissertation under his direction at Emory University. Schuchard is general editor of this 8-volume undertaking. When Cuda entered the tenure track at UNCG, his mentor asked him to be co-editor of volume 2, focusing on these formative years of Eliot’s career.

“It is the period in which he wrote the most important poem of the 20th century.” If you want to see what books he was reading and critiquing during the time leading up to “The Waste Land,” now you can, month by month, sometimes week by week, Cuda explains.

Scholars and Eliot admirers will have a number of new resources to find out what he was thinking during those crucial years. “We’ll have his newly re-edited letters, a new, annotated edition of the poems – and volume 2 of the Complete Prose.”

It’s a major undertaking with long-lasting impact, Cuda says. “This is the most important scholarly project I will do in my lifetime.”

More information may be found at http://muse.jhu.edu/about/reference/eliot/index.html.

By Mike Harris