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MEDIA CONTACT: Helene Snihur (585) 275-7800
February 13, 2003
Eminent Literary Scholar Joseph Summers Dies
Joseph H. Summers, Sr., the Roswell S. Burrows Professor Emeritus of English
at the University of Rochester and an internationally respected authority on Renaissance
literature, died Monday, Feb. 3, in Rochester. He would have been 83 on Feb. 9.
Summers was known for his groundbreaking work on 17th-century poet George Herbert
that, in the eyes of many scholars, secured Herbert's reputation as one of England's
great lyric poets, and for his critical studies of John Milton, which earned him
honors from the Milton Society of America. Summers also wrote extensively on Shakespeare,
John Donne, and other writers in the 16th and 17th centuries.
"Joseph Summers was one of the most distinguished critics of 17th-century
English literature in the second half of the 20th century," said Jonathan
Post, professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles. Post
received his doctoral degree at the University of Rochester in 1976. "His
criticism is characterized by wide learning, sharp wit, and great clarity and
elegance of expression. At the same time, his generous intelligence and devotion
as a teacher inspired deep loyalty among his many graduate students."
Over the last three decades, Summers became interested in and promoted the works
of writers from the former British colonies, introducing his students to J. M.
Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, V. S. Naipaul, and Salman Rushdie well before the authors
became famous in the United States.
He and his wife U. T. Miller Summers, a writer and associate professor emerita
at Rochester Institute of Technology, counted among their friends a number of
contemporary poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Anthony Hecht,
Edwin Muir, Richard Wilbur, and Mona Van Duyn.
"He was one of the truly great humanists of our time," said Russell
Peck, John H. Deane Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University
of Rochester. In a tribute written in 1989, Peck described Summers as a person
"who may burst forth with a poem by MacNeice or Wilbur as readily as one
by Herbert or Donne."
A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Summers was the recipient
of many honors. He also was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Fund for the
Advancement of Learning, Folger Library Fellow, and NEH-Huntington Library Fellow.
His many publications include George Herbert: His Religion and Art; The
Muse's Method: An Introduction of Paradise Lost; The Heirs of Donne and
Jonson; Dreams of Love and Power: On Shakespeare's Plays; The Lyric
and Dramatic Milton; Selected Poems of Marvell; and Selected Poems
of George Herbert.
Before joining the Rochester faculty in 1969, Summers was professor of English
at Michigan State University and chair of the English department at Washington
University in St. Louis. He also taught at Bard College, the University of Connecticut,
Harvard University, Amherst College, and the University of Kent in Canterbury.
He was a visiting fellow at All Souls College the year he was a Fulbright Professor
at Oxford University. He retired in 1985.
Summers earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1941. A conscientious
objector, he spent most of World War II working at public service camps. After
the war, he worked with the American Civil Liberty Union's National Committee
on Conscientious Objectors to help get other conscientious objectors out of jail,
and returned to Harvard for his graduate degrees.
Besides his wife, Summers is survived by his daughters, Mary Summers, and her
husband Rogers Smith of Philadelphia, and Hazel Kirk, and her husband Thomas of
St. Louis, Miss.; his son Joseph H. Summers, Jr. and his wife Donna Ainsworth
of Ann Arbor, Mich.; 10 grandchildren; and two nephews. He was predeceased by
his brother Hollis Summers, a poet and novelist.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Christ Church,
141 East. Ave., in Rochester. Memorial contributions can be sent to the Fellowship
of Reconciliation, Box 271, Nyack, NY 10960; the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation,
3257 Lohr Road, Pittsfield Township, MI 48108; or Christ Church, 141 East Ave.,
Rochester, NY 14604.
About the University of Rochester
The University of Rochester (www.rochester.edu) is one of the nation's leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty through its unique cluster-based curriculum. Its College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Memorial Art Gallery.