Ezra Greenspan


Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Chair in Humanities


Office: DH 233
Phone: 214-768-2905
Email: egreensp[@]smu.edu

Educational Background

Ph.D., Brown University


Ezra Greenspan is a literary and cultural historian who studies and teaches the history of written communications and media in the United States — from manuscript and print to digitalia. His interests include the history of writing, printing, and publishing; of institutions of letters such as libraries and schools; of the interplay between letters and visual images; of archives and archiving; and of the historic uses of written communications, especially by ethnic groups such as African Americans and Jews. 

Those interests underlie his practice of writing biography.  His most recent books include comprehensive biographies of the publisher G. P. Putnam and the writer and civil rights activist William Wells Brown. His current project is a multigenerational biography to be called Frederick Bailey Douglass and His People: A Family Biography. His work on these projects has been facilitated by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.  

He offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on all periods of literature and culture in the United States. Recent offerings include courses on the history of print and digital culture in America, modern Jewish literature and culture, period surveys of American literary and cultural history, and a creative writing workshop on life writing.

Selected Publications

  • Walt Whitman and the American Reader (1990)
  • George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher (2000)
  • “Song of Myself”: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition (2005)
  • William Wells Brown: A Reader (2008)
  • Editor: William Wells Brown: Clotel and Other Works (NY: Library of America, 2014)

  • Co-editor, vol. 17 of Book History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)


Upcoming Readings and Interviews

  • Oct. 7: Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC)
  • Nov 6: "Black Book Talk," on KBOO FM (Portland, OR) (Listen here)

  • Nov 14: NPR-PRI's "The World" (Listen here)


Review of William Wells Brown: An African American Life in New York Times Book Review (Nov. 17, 2014)

William Wells Brown: An African American Life in New York Times Book Review Selected as "Editor's Choice,"- New York Times (Nov. 23, 2014)

Greenspan on Whitman v. Trump

National Endowment for the Humanities commendation

Greenspan recent public lecture: "The Matter of Black Lives: Writing the Biography of Frederick Douglass and His Family"