Blog Post

Emory Elliott, My Friend, 1942-2009

Yesterday I learned of the passing of another great spirit in theworld, my dear, dear friend Emory Elliott. He was the most generous ofmentors, the kindest of human beings, and, like John Hope Franklin, Emory always fought for the good and the right, and maintainedhope against odds. The whole profession mourns his passing.


Emory befriended me my first month as an assistant professor, when he hadjust been tenured at Princeton and he seemed so wise and old. I was writing a risky and bold project and he knew, far better than I, that I needed a "protector" and he stepped into that role. In the last twenty-four hours, I've now exchanged so many messages with so many others, from people older than me to people starting out right now in the profession, who said exactly the same thing. Emory was a conscientious mentor on behalf of those who pushed the edges. Hundreds, maybe thousands of us, basked in his wise good sense, good humor, and loving support over the years.


Overmany years, Emory, his wife Georgia, and Ken and I became very close friends. I watched his wonderfulchildren grow up to have their own lives, careers, children. He hiredme at Princeton. We spent Friday happy hours in his living room, laughing and joking, always with marvelous people, always in good spirits. It was a tough, even calamitous year in Princeton's history, but also a wonderful year when Toni Morrison joined the faculty (Emory, of course, was part of that) and many other exciting things happened at a University that had treated Emory well, as he always said. Emory knew how to find cheer even during difficult times.


But no one was happy with how the calamity ended or how it was handled institutionally, and several faculty in English left that year, including Emory. He and Georgia moved on to University of California Riverside, where he was very happy to be at a state university, with such a diverse faculty and diverse students too. His own background was working class, first-generation college student, and he loved UCR, and his students and colleagues there. No one was a bigger booster for UCR than Emory and I visited there many times and saw the life and liveliness.


I was so happy that I, coincidentally, was visiting the day he was named a University Professor--one of a handful of professors to have a designation for the entire California system, not just one campus. When it was announced, people spontaneously flooded into the center of the UCR campus to honor Emory. The love shone from the eyes of the faculty and students, so proud that Emory received such an honor, and it flowed back from him to them. Rarely have I seen anyone so central to a community.


Emory's own work was as capaciously generous and quietly bold as he was. He changed our view of the Puritans, and changed our provincial Americanism by (imagine that!) actually paying attention to what Americanists in other countries thought "America" was. His listening was far more effective in changing the contours of American studies than lots of platitudes about the "transnational" where the "trans" remains uni-directional. He also edited the remarkable Columbia History of the American Novel that was called, at the height of the Culture Wars, "dangerous." We joked that that word should be emblazoned on the cover, he'd sell lots of books and skyrocket to the top line of the pundits, but, per usual, he had done his best to include junior scholars and scholars of color and he was afraid their careers might be hurt by the word. He was more concerned about them than with boasting of his own chic, or punditry, or even radicalism. That concern for others, always, was his way.


Emory was beloved worldwide and represented the best ofAmerican Studies worldwide. And I miss him beyond measure.


Below is a moving tribute from the University of California's Humanities Research Institute, where his influence and support showed everywhere. Today will be another day of memorial. And on behalf of HASTAC, we all extend our love and support to his wonderful wife Georgia and their children and grandchildren, and to the entire community at the University of California at Riverside where he has been a monumental, indelible presence and force for good in the world.





1942 - 2009

Emory Elliott, University Professor and Professor of English at UCRiverside, served on UCHRI's Board of Governors from 1997-2002,chairing it from 2000-2002. He directed the Center for Ideas andSociety at UC Riverside continuously from 1995 to the present, servedon the University of California President's Advisory Committee onResearch in the Humanities as an at-large member, and most recently wasthe President of the American Studies Association (2006-7).

Emory has had an enormous impact on shaping the humanities in thebroad and American Studies especially at UC Riverside, across the UCsystem, nationally and internationally. A mentor to so many of us, adear friend and colleague, a leader among leaders. He touched deeplywith his boundless energy, indomitable spirit, low-key and always wiseguiding spirit, substance, and support.

Emory Elliott was Professor of English at University of California,Riverside and was appointed in 2001 as University Professor, a UC titlereserved for scholars of international distinction who are alsorespected as teachers of exceptional ability. He served as Director ofthe Center for Ideas and Society since 1995. He served as a Fellow andlater as Chair of the Board of Governors of the UC Humanities ResearchInstitute at UC Irvine from 1997-2002. He joined the UCR faculty in1989 after teaching at Princeton for many years, where he also chairedthe English Department. He is the author of Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England, published by Princeton University Press (1975), and Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in the New Republic, published by Oxford University Press (1982). His American Puritan Literature appears in Volume I of the multi-volume Cambridge History of American Literature (1993). He is also the editor of many other books, including The Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988), American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology (1991), and the Columbia History of the American Novel (1991). He is Series Editor of The American Novel (Cambridge University Press) and Penn Studies in Contemporary American Fiction.He has been an NEH, American Council of Learned Societies, Guggenheim,and National Humanities Center Fellow. He won the UCR DistinguishedTeaching Award for 1993 and the Rosemary Schraer Award for HumanitarianService for 1997.

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Emory Elliott dies at 66; scholar and UC Riverside English professor

He was a leading expert on American literature who was a pivotal figure in the university's intellectual community.
By Jon Thurber

April 4, 2009
Elliott, a UC Riverside professor and leading scholar of American
literature who was a pivotal figure in the university's intellectual
community, has died. He was 66.

Elliott, who was found Tuesday at his Riverside home, died of an apparent heart attack.