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Kilby, Clyde S.



  • Existence: 1902 - 1986

Biographical Statement

Clyde Samuel Kilby, author and professor, was born in the hill country of Johnson City, Tennessee in 1902, the youngest of eight. A book-loving, talented young man, he emerged from impoverished circumstances and entered the University of Arkansas, graduating in 1929. A year later he married Martha Harris, attracted to her gracious manner and warm smile. They moved north where he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, completing his Master's degree. Kilby was then hired as Dean of Men and Assistant Professor of English at Wheaton College before departing for New York University, there pursuing his doctorate on Horace Walpole, the eighteenth-century British man of letters. He returned to Wheaton as an English teacher, acting as Chairman of the English Department from 1951 to 1966.

During his tenure, Kilby was responsible for initiating the annual Writing and Literature Conference, in addition to composing his own numerous articles, reviews and books, including a textbook, Poetry and Life: An Introduction to Poetry (1953), an anthology of classic texts interwoven with Kilby's commentary.

His next book, Minority of One (1959), relates the life of Wheaton's first president, the redoubtable Jonathan Blanchard. Ever diligent, Kilby's research took him to the road as he carefully traced Blanchard’s journeys, uncovering diaries and courthouse records from Vermont to Ohio to Illinois.

When not traveling, the Kilbys lived at the edge of campus on the second floor of a big house surrounded by towering elms. It was not uncommon for early morning passers-by to spot him sitting on the back porch, typing his voluminous correspondence with dizzying accuracy.

For years, until the task of hospitality became too burdensome, students met regularly in the Kilby home, enjoying cookies, punch and robust conversation. Delighted, Kilby performed tricks with parakeet Peter perched atop his nose and glasses. Generations of students fondly recall the warmth and intellectual stimulation they received during these evening soirees. Aside from adoring friends, the Kilbys had no children.

Probing concerns, he ascertained a distinct need for challenging students toward innovative, courageous creative endeavor. They valued affirmation from a man of his maturity and intellect, a soothing, stabilizing voice from a generation who had often discouraged artistic flexibility among the 1960s counterculture. If his students balked at the challenge, he felt the testimony of the church was imperiled. These energetic, idealistic young people represented tomorrow’s leadership.

Kilby’s determination to vivify the slumping Christian imagination received additional boosts from a concentrated reading of C.S. Lewis, whose work Kilby encountered in the early 1940s. “When you read a book by C.S. Lewis,” he said, “you have the feeling that you’ve got hold of something bottomless.”

He met Lewis only once in 1953 at Magdalen College, Oxford. Kilby, not wishing to offend, sent Martha shopping while he chatted privately with the bachelor don. For the remaining hour or so they discussed literature, art and the Renaissance. The two scholars corresponded until Lewis’s death in 1963.

In 1962 Kilby published The Christian World of C.S. Lewis, a classic introduction to the author and his works. Related titles written or edited by Kilby include Christianity and Aesthetics (1961), Letters to an American Lady (1967), C.S. Lewis: Images of His World (1973) and Images of Salvation in the Fiction of C.S. Lewis (1978). Kilby’s readable prose is characterized by sympathetic, enthusiastic engagement with his subject.

After Lewis, Kilby’s most aggressively pursued subject was J.R.R. Tolkien, whom he met in 1966 after a brief correspondence. In Oxford, Kilby assisted Tolkien with assembling the sprawling portions of the then-unpublished The Silmarillion, which saw print in 1977, four years after Tolkien’s death. Kilby tells the tale of his visit to Mr. and Mrs. Tolkien in the charming memoir Tolkien and The Silmarillion (1977).

Before its release, Tolkien’s son and literary executor, Christopher, requested that one chapter be removed, sensing that Kilby had misinterpreted aspects of the plot. It is seen for the first time in SEVEN: An Anglo-American Review, published by the Wade Center.

During his Oxford trip, Kilby also saw Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s brother, and requested bequeathal of additional letters, manuscripts and personal items upon Lewis’s death. Lewis, who called the whimsical American “a really nice man,” gladly consented, maintaining a bureau full of papers conveniently labeled, “Property of Clyde S. Kilby.”

In 1965, Kilby established the Marion E. Wade Center, using his correspondence with C.S. Lewis as its nucleus. From there he worked toward acquiring the manuscripts and scattered memorabilia of those British authors who influenced Lewis’s faith, such as G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald from generations earlier; and those who associated with Lewis in academic and social circles, specifically Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Initially the Wade Center received funding through class gifts, later through donations from the family of Marion E. Wade, the founder of ServiceMaster. Expanding, the Wade moved from a small room in Blanchard Hall to offices in Buswell Library, and to its permanent location in 2001, two doors south of the former Kilby home.

Clyde Kilby loved his students, and they abundantly returned the sentiment. Thomas Howard, Roman Catholic author of several elegantly written books, writes that he “…studied aesthetics under a great and good man named Kilby…” Dr. Mark Noll, historian, author and McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College writes that Kilby had shaken him from “dogmatic slumbers.” Luci Shaw, poet and publisher, declares, "…I'm convinced I'm in literature and writing today because of him."

Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

Christianity Today Records

Identifier: CN 008
Brief Description Correspondence, memos, forms, financial reports, minutes of meetings, study papers, clippings and other records of the Evangelical Christian publishing organization. The records describe the founding of the organization to publish the magazine Christianity Today and its creation or acquisition of other publications such as Campus Life, Leadership, Leadership 100, Partnership, and Your Church. Besides material on the editing, publishing and distribution of these periodicals, the files also...
Dates: Created: Majority of material found within 1930, 1954-2002

Clyde Kilby Papers

Identifier: SC-090
Scope and Contents

This collection is composed of primary and secondary material. Photocopies of articles, addresses, and reviews accompany a small amount of biographical information and correspondence. The secondary material includes general articles and press releases about Dr. Kilby and his work, as well as quoting him. Reviews of Dr. Kilby's works are also included. The materials measure four inches in length.

Dates: Created: 1953-2013

C.S. Lewis: Images of His World Archive

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-A-44 and A-124
Abstract This archive contains research notes, Lewis quotations, corrected typescripts, photographs, and other material related to the writing and publishing of the book C.S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby, published in 1973 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. At the time of the publishing, Gilbert was an Assistant Professor of Art at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. Kilby was a Professor of English and the Curator of the Lewis...
Dates: Created: 1972-1973

James E. Burr Collection

Identifier: SC-102
Scope and Contents The James E. Burr Collection primarily documents the imprisonement of George Thompson, Alanson Work, and James E. Burr while students at the Mission Institute (Quincy, Illinois) during the 1840s. Primary source documents include newsclippings, court transcripts, and original correspondence while Clyde S. Kilby's research cards and notes from the 1950s provide additional background material. In recent years, new research has begun by Wheaton alumna Marcia Daniels and is regularly updated in a...
Dates: Created: 1841-2008; Other: Date acquired: 1959

Schofield Correspondence Archive

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Wade-A-6 through 7
Abstract This archive is a collection of correspondence from the files of Stephen Schofield, C.S. Lewis scholar and editor of the "Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal." It contains correspondence between Stephen Schofield, Walter Hooper, Clyde S. Kilby, Kathryn Lindskoog, Ruth Pitter, George Sayer, and Sheldon Vanauken. Photocopies of letters by C.S. Lewis to various correspondents are also included, as well as various related materials. Some photographs are included...
Dates: Created: 1942-1992; Other: Majority of material found in 1979-1986

The Quest of the Ring Archive

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: Wade-A-38

This archive contains memorabilia from a production of an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for theatre, performed in Cheltenham.

Dates: Created: 1966-1976

Additional filters:

Correspondence. 2
Kilby, Clyde S. -- Archives. 2
Abolitionists. 1
African Americans -- Social conditions. 1
African Americans. 1
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Articles. 1
Authors and readers -- United States. 1
Berlin (Germany) 1
Burr, James E. -- Trials, litigation, etc. 1
Campus life (Periodical) 1
Catholic Church -- Evangelicalism. 1
Catholic Church. 1
Church and social problems. 1
Church and state -- United States. 1
Clippings files. 1
Corporations, Religious -- Taxation. 1
Evangelicalism -- Catholic Church. 1
Evangelicalism -- United States. 1
Evangelicalism. 1
Evangelistic work -- Congresses 1
Evangelistic work -- India. 1
Evangelistic work -- United States. 1
Evangelistic work -- Vietnam. 1
Evangelistic work. 1
Gilbert, Douglas R., -- Archives. 1
Hooper, Walter -- Correspondence. 1
Interviews. 1
Israel. 1
Journalism, Religious -- United States. 1
Kilby, Clyde S. -- Correspondence. 1
Leadership (Periodical) 1
Leadership 100 (Periodical) 1
Lewis, C. S. -- Archives. 1
Lewis, C. S. -- Correspondence. 1
Lewis, C. S. -- Photograph collections. 1
Liberalism (Religion) 1
Lindskoog, Kathryn Ann -- Correspondence. 1
Mass media in religion -- United States. 1
Missions -- Congresses. 1
Missions -- Interdenominational cooperation. 1
Missions -- Middle East. 1
Missouri State Penitentiary 1
Partnership (Periodical) 1
Pentecostalism -- United States. 1
Photographs. 1
Pitter, Ruth, -- Correspondence. 1
Prisoners -- Missouri -- Biography. 1
Prisoners’ writings, American 1
Prisons -- Missouri. 1
Proofs (printed matter) 1
Reviews (documents) 1
Sayer, George -- Correspondence. 1
Schofield, Stephen -- Archives. 1
Schofield, Stephen -- Correspondence. 1
Sex role. 1
Slavery -- Missouri. 1
Slavery -- United States -- Personal narratives. 1
Theology 1
Theology -- Congresses. 1
Tolkien, J. R. R. -- Adaptations. 1
Tolkien, J. R. R. -- Archives. 1
Tolkien, J. R. R. -- Correspondence. 1
Transcripts. 1
Underground Railroad 1
Vanauken, Sheldon -- Correspondence. 1
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975. 1
Wheaton College (Ill.) -- Faculty. 1
Women clergy. 1
Your church (Periodical) 1
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