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E K. Brown was born in Toronto and was educated at the University of Toronto (B.A., 1926) and the University of Paris, where he earned his doctorate (1935). He taught English at the University of Toronto from 1929 to 1941, except for two years when he was Head of the English Department at the University of Manitoba, from 1935 to 1937. He was Chair of English at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, from 1941 to 1944. He then moved to the University of Chicago, where he stayed until his death. He wrote extensively on Canadian poetry and British poetry, especially the work of Matthew Arnold. He was an important critic of Canadian literature.
In 1942, Brown took a brief leave of absence from Cornell to serve on Mackenzie King's staff for six months. He then wrote an article about King for Harper's Magazine. Brown intended it to be objective portrait, but King was offended. "I confess I was very much hurt by it," he wrote. (Diary, January 4, 1943). An essay called "Mackenzie King of Canada," in the book E.K. Brown: Responses and Evaluations: Essays on Canada, edited by David Staines, may be a reprint of the Harper's Magazine article.