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For immediate release: April 18, 2003
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Editors: Photos are available at: http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/s-z/weiss_theodore/

Theodore Weiss, professor, poet and literary critic, dies

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Theodore Weiss, an award-winning poet, editor, literary critic and emeritus professor at Princeton University, died Tuesday, April 15, at age 86 after a battle with Parkinson's disease.

A celebration of his life and work will be held at a later date.

In addition to serving as a devoted and beloved teacher at Princeton, Weiss was editor and publisher of the Quarterly Review of Literature (QRL) for nearly 60 years with his wife Renée Weiss. The QRL, founded in 1943, was nationally acclaimed as one of the most influential and cutting-edge literary publications, regarded as an independent voice for poetry, fiction and criticism. Eventually, the magazine solely devoted its contents to poetry, later publishing volumes of poems once a year.

When the QRL produced its 30th anniversary "Retrospective Volumes," The Boston Globe said: "In these dark ages of mass communication little magazines sometimes provide a flicker of light, but the QRL is a veritable beacon." The New York Times said: "To get a sense of poetry over the past three decades, readers might well immerse themselves in the 30th Anniversary Poetry Retrospective Issue. (The QRL is) a magazine of consistently high standards that has been sensitively open to new talent."

During the 1950s and 1960s, Weiss was at the center of the poetry world, according to many of his colleagues. Edmund (Mike) Keeley, former director of the creative writing program at Princeton and professor of English, said Weiss' legacy in the literary world is not only as a poet, but as an influential and credible critic with an ability to identify the most important figures in poetry. Keeley said Weiss discovered new talent and defined the significance and contribution of established poets to American and international literature. Some credited the QRL with revitalizing interest in poets who had fallen into obscurity and raising the prominence of others. The QRL published works by William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound, along with important foreign writers.

"He was absolutely honest in his judgment of poetic talent," Keeley said. "He could be very tough, but he was also very generous, particularly when he was giving credit to unknown, young and aspiring poets."

Weiss also was an award-winning poet whose works include more than a dozen books of poetry. His poems were widely published in prominent literary magazines and anthologies. His books of poetry include: "The Catch" (1951), "Gunsight" (1962), "From Princeton One Autumn Afternoon: The Collected Poems of Theodore Weiss 1950-1986" (1987) and "Selected Poems" (1995). He was the author of a book of literary criticism, "The Breath of Clowns and Kings: Shakespeare's Early Comedies and Histories" (1971), and a collection of essays, "The Man From Porlock, Selected Essays" (1982). Selections of his poems were recorded for the Library of Congress, Harvard University and Yale University.

Reginald Gibbons, a 1969 Princeton graduate who studied with Weiss as a student and is now chair of the English department at Northwestern University, called him "one of the great teachers."

"Professor Weiss was a dream teacher in that as a freshman I received from him that intense intellectual engagement and teaching that I had fantasized would be available at Princeton," Gibbons said. "My relationship with him as a student and then later as an adult was a transforming experience. He had a huge influence on me. I will always be grateful to Ted and Princeton for giving me that gift."

Weiss was born Dec. 16, 1916, in Reading, Pa. He received his B.A. from Muhlenberg College in 1938 and his M.A. from Columbia University in 1940. He was married to Renée Karol in 1941.

From 1941 to 1946, he was an instructor at the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina and Yale University. In 1946, he was appointed a professor of English at Bard College, where he taught until 1966.

He came to Princeton University in 1966 as a poet-in-residence. He was appointed professor of English and creative writing at Princeton in 1968 and in 1977 was named the William and Anne S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature. He retired from the University in 1987, but continued to publish poems, articles and the QRL Poetry Book Series.

A recipient of numerous honors and fellowships, Weiss was presented first prize by the Wallace Stevens Awards in 1956, the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in Poetry in 1977, the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award for 1988-89 and the Oscar Williams and Gene Durwood Award for Poetry for 1997. He and Renée received the 1997 PEN/Nora Magid Lifetime Achievement Award. Weiss also was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, a Ford Foundation fellowship, a National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities fellowship and the Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship. Weiss was a frequent guest poet and lecturer and visiting professor at several institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New School of Social Research in New York City. He gave a poetry reading at the White House in 1980.

Weiss was the subject of an award-winning 1987 documentary, "Living Poetry: A Year in the Life of a Poem." Filmmaker Harvey Edwards followed Weiss throughout the year and filmed the creation and evolution of his poem, "Fractions," from the initial inspiration to the finished piece. Weiss again was featured in Edwards' 1995 follow-up film, "Living Poetry 2: Yes, With Lemon," which chronicled subsequent revisions to "Fractions" and included a discussion by a group of Princeton undergraduates and a faculty member about the final version.

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