Warren Bower was a Professor of English at New York University and member of the faculty there since 1930. He launched The Reader's Almanac on December 5, 1938. That first program was called "A Look Forward," and was a conversation between Bower and his English Department colleague, Bernard A. Huppe.
The two academics were "observing" novelist Willa Cather's birthday. Initially, the marking of literary birthdays was a regular feature of the show hence the program's title. The birthday feature was eventually dropped but the show name remained, as did the idea of talking about writers of the past.
By the program's second year, a discussion between Bower and another member of the English Department at NYU also gave way to interviews with current authors whose books had just been published, a format followed for decades.
During Bower's nearly thirty-two year run he interviewed many of the leading figures in literature and the arts including: Robert Frost, Marianne Moore (audio above), Virgil Thomson, Ralph Ellison, Alfred Kazin, John Dos Passos, Robert Penn Warren, Archibald Mac Leish, Budd Shulberg, Eva LeGallienne, Stanley Kunitz, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, James Purdy and Marian Anderson.
In the 1950s the show was also syndicated to some sixty-two public and university stations in twenty-five states as part of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) tape network. The program was recorded at NYU and fed live by telephone line to WNYC with an elaborate system of signals back and forth.
WNYC issued a press release for the show's 800th broadcast on March 26, 1957. The occasion was also a tribute to The New York Times music critic Olin Downes and included Downes' widow, Irene Downes, composer and critic Virgil Thomson, soprano Jarmila Novotna and distinguished composer and educator Dr. Philip James. The station's publicity referred to Bower as "Radio's Book Dean," and the broadcast was called "the oldest continuous book program on radio." (Although Bower himself humbly noted it was not the first book program on radio, recalling one by a Northwestern University English professor called Of Men and Books). Bower was also noted for bringing books to television, hosting a weekly series on WPIX-TV (Channel 11).
A native of Elkhart, Indiana, Warren Bower was educated in Michigan and received a B.A. from Hillsdale College in 1920. He was awarded an M.A. from the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1922 to 1928. Before coming to NYU in 1930 he was on the English faculty of Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Bower served as assistant dean of the NYU Division of General Education, (now the School of Professional Studies) from 1950 to 1966. In addition to teaching he was the author and editor of books on the craft of writing and was formerly a fiction editor at Scribner's Magazine. Warren Bower died in 1976.
Special thanks to Deborah Shapiro of the NYU Archives.