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University of Delaware Faculty

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  • Ben Yagoda, Professor

    University of Delaware
    323 Memorial Hall
    Newark, DE 19716
    (302) 831-2212


    ​Ben Yagoda (B.A. Yale, M.A. University of Pennsylvania) is the author of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (Scribner, 2000) and Will Rogers: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993) and the coeditor of The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism (Scribner, 1997). He has contributed articles, essays and reviews to more than fifty national publications, including Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times Book Review. He teaches courses in journalism and nonfiction writing.

    Office Hours

    By appointment


    • M.A., American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania, 1991
    • B.A., English, Yale University, 1976


    The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Riverhead Books, 2015.

    ​Everybody knows and loves the American Songbook. But it’s a bit less widely understood that in about 1950, this stream of great songs more or less dried up. All of a sudden, what came over the radio wasn’t Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin, but “Come on-a My House” and “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Elvis and rock and roll arrived a few years later, and at that point the game was truly up. What happened, and why? 

    In The B Side, acclaimed cultural historian Ben Yagoda answers those questions in a fascinating piece of detective work. Drawing on previously untapped archival sources and on scores of interviews—the voices include Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, Linda Ronstadt, and Herb Alpert—the book illuminates broad musical trends through a series of intertwined stories. Among them are the battle between ASCAP and Broadcast Music, Inc.; the revolution in jazz after World War II; the impact of radio and then television; and the bitter, decades-long feud between Mitch Miller and Frank Sinatra.

    The B Side is about taste, and the particular economics and culture of songwriting, and the potential of popular art for greatness and beauty. It’s destined to become a classic of American musical history.

    You Need to Read This

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.

    ​In You Need to Read This, language expert Ben Yagoda writes about the cuckoo things we have done to the English language. His witty, insightful, and wise observations and advice are gathered here together for the first time.

    From the phenomenon of curate, to the rise of the glottal stop, to the prevalence of starting sentences with so, to the story of an epithet of the moment (douchey), Yagoda chronicles the trends in our language. In the second part of You Need to Read This, he examines the issue of mistakes and “mistakes,” and the battles between prescriptivists, who nitpick grammar, and descriptivists, who defend new expressions and casual usage.  Yagoda is on the front lines of the language wars, and you need to read this book to find out which side you’re on.

    How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

    ​Ben Yagoda's How to Not Write Bad illustrates how we can all write better, more clearly, and for a wider readership.

    He offers advice on what he calls "not-writing-badly," which consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that also display clarity, precision, and grace. Then he focuses on crafting whole paragraphs—with attention to cadence, consistency of tone, sentence transitions, and paragraph length.

    In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps we can all take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better.

    Memoir: A History

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York, NY: Riverhead, 2009.

    ​Ben Yagoda traces the memoir from its birth in early Christian writings up to the first years of the current century. Spanning decades and nations, styles and subjects, he analyzes the hallmark memoirs of the Western tradition-Rousseau, Ben Franklin, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Edward Gibbon, among others. Throughout, the idea of memory and truth, how we remember and how well we remember lives, is intimately explored.

    When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech for Better And/or Worse

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Broadway, 2006.

    ​Yagoda isn't trying to reinvent the style guide, just offering his personal tour of some of the English language's idiosyncrasies. Using the parts of speech as signposts, he charts an amiable path between those critics for whom any alterations to established grammar are hateful and those who believe whatever people use in speech is by default acceptable.

    The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

    ​In writing, style matters. Our favorite writers often entertain, move, and inspire us less by what they say than by how they say it. Ben Yagoda offers practical and incisive help for writers on developing and discovering their own style and voice. This book features interviews with more than 40 authors discussing their literary style.

    About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Scribner, 2000.

    ​Yagoda tells the story of the tiny journal that grew into a literary enterprise of epic proportions. Incorporating interviews with more than fifty former and current New Yorker writers, including the late Joseph Mitchell, Roger Angell, the late Pauline Kael, Calvin Trillin, and Ann Beattie, Yagoda is the first author to make extensive use of the New Yorker's archives.

    Will Rogers: A Biography

    Yagoda, Ben

    New York: Knopf, 1993.

    ​Born in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), cowboy humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) had a "dual consciousness," in Yagoda's estimate. The rope-twirling vaudeville monologist, salty political commentator, silent film actor and New York Times columnist was the son of a former slaveholder and Confederate veteran, but he was also one-quarter Cherokee and the tribe vividly remembered Andrew Jackson's massive betrayal of the Cherokees. Rogers embodied old-time values, yet he "opportunistically" embraced the new mass-culture media.



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  • The Journalism Program
  • 207 Memorial Hall
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • 302-831-3870