Annette Kolodny, 1941-2019

Tributes paid to ‘brilliant and gracious’ scholar who broke new ground in study of literature and ecofeminism

October 10, 2019
Annette Kolodny

A pioneering feminist scholar has died.

Annette Kolodny was born in New York City in 1941, studied at Brooklyn College (1962) and began her working life at Newsweek magazine. As this offered few opportunities for women, she pursued a PhD in English and American literature at the University of California, Berkeley (1969). After an initial teaching position at Yale University, she moved to the University of British Columbia, so her husband – the novelist Daniel Peters – could avoid being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

Returning to the US in 1974, Professor Kolodny found work at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She helped to found the discipline of ecofeminism in books such as The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (1975), drawing parallels between the aggressive colonisation of “virgin” land, particularly in the American West, and assaults on women. Despite such intellectual achievements, she had an unhappy time at New Hampshire. When she was denied tenure, she successfully sued the university for discrimination on the grounds of sexual discrimination and antisemitism. She would also express regret, in a celebrated essay titled “Dancing through the Minefield” (1980), that feminist literary criticism often attracted hostility rather than the respect she felt it deserved.

After stints at the University of Maryland and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, Professor Kolodny became dean of the College of Humanities at University of Arizona at Tucson (1988-93). She went on to serve there as professor of American literature and culture until she retired and became emerita in 2007. She then returned to scholarship and developed her interest in Native American culture in an acclaimed book titled In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery (2012).

Ellen Messer-Davidow, professor of English at the University of Minnesota, recalled Professor Kolodny as a friend whose “brilliant and gracious moments are preserved in my mind as technicoloured snapshots…Many who never met her took inspiration and guidance from her foundational scholarship in the fields of American literature and culture, feminist studies and ecocriticism. Many who crowded into conference auditoriums remain inspired and energised by her talks. Many [others] gratefully acknowledge her guidance as a senior scholar, as a teacher and as a dean who instituted gender-equity and family-friendly policies.”

A sufferer from rheumatoid arthritis since her youth, Professor Kolodny spent many years in a wheelchair and died of the resulting infections on 11 September. She is survived by her husband.

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