Professor Susan Wolfson has written the following tribute to Professor Jack Stillinger, who passed away on April 4, 2020. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts are with his family.
‘So here I am, in 2020, working on another book on Keats, with Jack as a presider … not only for his superb, unrivaled, editorial expertise and tact, but also for his long and evolving critical engagement, no better exemplified than in Reading The Eve of St. Agnes: The Multiples of Complex Literary Action— a bicentenary marvel published in 1995. It’s about this extraordinary poem, of course, but also this poem as proxy for Keats’s entire canon. And it is about reading, about teaching, about thinking through and with Keats. And most of all it is about extraordinary Jack Stillinger. Jack assembles everyone, a cast of thousands it seems, to convene a conversation on what we do as readers, how our interests are provoked and developed, how we converse with one another, in collaborative agreements or collegial disagreements. This is Jack, who could have been happy just to be an editor of inestimable value, or a critic of wit, courage, and illumination; but he was always so sociable–at conferences, in the stimulations of his teaching, in his respectful fun with his colleagues. I have been, by turns, in every one of these positions of appreciation.
I first “met” Jack when I was a graduate student, studying for my doctoral exams in 1973, one portion of which was Keats: the sad convenience of a short career made a happy prospect of reading everything, reading biographies and letters, reading a strong critical tradition. That’s when I came across “The Hoodwinking of Madeline” which pretty much changed my world, not only with its bracing argument, but with its example of how to work complexly with complexities. I wrote “Professor Stillinger” a letter of appreciation, which he kindly responded to; and I think it was he who was the supportive reader of my very first publication, in JEGP, on scenes and scenarios of questioning in the 1798 Lyrical Ballads. We were never institutional colleagues, but for decades Jack was in my professional life, as advisor, as colleague, as friend, as fellow-lover of the American southwest. I apparently surprised him with my dedication of Reading John Keats “For Jack Stillinger, my Keats teacher before he knew it and ever since.” He should have known better, but it was typical of him to tell me that I was teaching him, too. Well, that part of the exchange has concluded, but he’ll continue to teach me, and others. Keats imagined an afterlife “among the English poets.” Jack’s afterlife is among the best of the Keatsians.’
– Susan J. Wolfson, May 2020