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Monday, August 19, 2013

John Hollander (1929–2013)

John Hollander at a 2004 event to celebrate
the publication of American Wits.
Photo by Star Black

It was with great sadness that we learned over the weekend that poet and critic John Hollander had died at the age of 83. Hollander was a longtime advisor to The Library of America, who freely offered his incomparable expertise and shepherded six volumes to print, including the landmark two-volume collection American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century.

LOA editor-in-chief Geoffrey O’Brien recalls the pleasure of having Hollander for a colleague:
Working with John Hollander on his two-volume Library of America anthology American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century was like being given an intimately detailed tour of a country until then scarcely known. The large familiar landmarks—Dickinson, Whitman, Melville, Emerson, Poe—took on a new character when surrounded by scores of their contemporaries from every corner of that culture of verse which for John was a luxuriant garden. He wasn’t interested in reducing literary history to a few essential writers: his taste for poetry was expansive, extending to a multitude of minor and occasional voices. The hours spent getting texts and notes in order for this immense undertaking remain in memory as a delight, informed as they were by his profound knowledge and by an affection equally profound for the materials in hand. Nothing could have been less dry or schoolmasterish than his capacity to find the hum of poetry even at its most attenuated frequencies.
Other Library of America volumes edited or co-edited by Hollander include Henry James: Complete Stories 1892–1898, American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems, and the Paperback Classics edition of the Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass. He also served on the advisory board for the two volumes of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century.

See today’s New York Times for an extended summary of Hollander’s remarkable career.

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