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Professor Allen Grossman dead at 82

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Section: News

August 22, 2014

On June 27, the Brandeis community lost Professor Allen Grossman Ph.D. ’60, to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Grossman was an acclaimed poet and respected academic who also taught at Brandeis from 1957 to 1991. He is survived by his wife, Judith, Ph.D. ’68, his daughter, the sculptor Bathsheba Grossman, and four sons: novelist and “Time” critic Lev, video game designer and novelist Austin, and Adam and Jonathan, from his first marriage. Grossman also leaves behind half a century of poetic work and influence, including 12 books, hundreds of poems and many friends. He was 82 years old.

Grossman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1932, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Harvard University, before receiving his Ph.D. at Brandeis and remaining to teach there. In 1991, he became an Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, where he taught in the English department until 2005. During his years at Brandeis, Grossman was one of the early proponents of University Studies, a core curriculum at Brandeis, as well as a friend and mentor to many, including Professor John Burt (ENG), who wrote Grossman’s obituary for BrandeisNOW. Grossman retired in 2009, and a tribute to his work and career was held, featuring readings from his children, as well as acclaimed writer Ha Jin and others influenced by Grossman’s work.

Over the course of his career, Grossman won 14 awards and prizes, including a MacArthur Genius Grant and three Pushcart Prizes for poetry. In 2009, Grossman was awarded Yale’s Bollingen Prize for his accomplishments in poetry. Grossman was unique in the depth of his work, as well as the ambition palpable in his prose, which always sought to reach larger intellectual heights. As Burt put it, “Poetry was a way of apprehending the meaning of being at its most fundamental level” for Grossman, and his work was an instrument to measure such abstract concepts. Grossman’s poetry is filled with emotional critiques of massive subjects like nature, human emotion and love. Grossman’s personal voice is also instantly apparent in his poems, and is very effective.

This voice, as well as Grossman’s philosophical ambitions within his writing, are what defined Grossman as “one of the most powerful and original voices of the 20th century,” according to Burt. One of Grossman’s books, “The Ether Dome” was described by the Literary Review as “a long devotion to poetry not as a quasi-career but as a way of understanding the world.” Grossman was also celebrated by the Poetry Foundation after his death. “Summa Lyrica,” Grossman’s treatise on poetics, is currently considered an essential reading for those wishing to explore the depth and meaning of poetry as an art form. In it, Grossman refers to poetry as “a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing. The making of poems is a practice—a work human beings can do—in which civilization has invested some part of its love of itself and the world.”

With the stream of heartfelt tributes to Grossman being released, as well as the fondness and respect given to his work, it is fair to say that he will be remembered for a long time, as both a poet and a scholar. The English departments at Brandeis and the other schools Grossman taught at will feel his influence for years to come.

Brandeis University will be holding a memorial event for Grossman on Oct. 19, 2014, from 1-4 p.m.

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