In Memoriam: Richard S. Kennedy (1920-2002)


Richard S. Kennedy has died. He passed away December 29, 2002 at age 82. He was professor of English at Temple University and a noted scholar of Thomas Wolfe, E. E. Cummings, and Robert Browning. He retired from teaching in 1988. In the same year, he was awarded Temple University's Great Teacher Award.

The Thomas Wolfe Society writes of his contribution to Wolfe studies: "His literary appreciation of Thomas Wolfe, The Window of Memory: The Literary Career of Thomas Wolfe, an outgrowth of his Harvard University dissertation on Wolfe, is widely accepted as the best criticism of Wolfe's work."

One of the founding members of the E. E. Cummings Society, Kennedy's chief gift to readers of Cummings was and is his indispensable biography of the poet, Dreams in the Mirror. For Cummings, writing and self were never very far apart. As he put it in his six nonlectures, after "a certain wholly mysterious moment which signifies selfdiscovery . . . the question 'Who am I?' is answered by what I write—in other words, I become my writing" (4). It was Kennedy's great achievement to show us the self of the poet within the writings, as well as the self that existed before or behind or beyond the writings.

Without Kennedy's research, many aspects of Cummings' self and writing would remain obscure. To cite just two examples: in the acknowledgements section of his edition of the correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings, Brian Ahearn writes: "Without the existence of Richard S. Kennedy's Dreams in the Mirror . . ., I would not have been able to undertake this project" (x). The same is true of this web site: without Kennedy's biography, there would be no Chronology page, and the notes on Cummings' poems and prose would be much poorer.

While he continued to work on Wolfe and Cummings, the research of Kennedy's last years chiefly concerned Robert Browning. Though he left his biography of Browning unfinished at his death, Kennedy published in 1993 a book on Browning's last volume, Asolando. The Thomas Wolfe Society reports that "Dr. Kennedy served a term as president of the Robert Browning Society and delivered the annual Robert Browning birthday lecture in May 1996."

On March 30, 2003, Norman Friedman wrote:

A memorial for Richard S. Kennedy was held at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, on Saturday afternoon, March 29, 2003.

It was well attended by members of the Temple faculty, friends, students and former students, and family. Various speakers were announced on the program, and afterwards the floor was open to others who wished to speak. Focal points were RSK as a teacher, colleague, scholar, friend, and family man. Striking was the agreement about his unique blend of exacting and learned scholarship with his personal warmth, humanity, and good will.

As a biographer,  in his work on Wolfe, Cummings, and Browning, his interest always included the quality of the person and his lived life as well as the genius of the work. We at the Memorial, speaking of remembering Dick, experienced that same fullness, as well as how the relationship between Dick and Ella touched and informed everything that was said.

In particular, three members of the Cummings Society—David V. Forrest, MD, Norman Friedman, and Zelda Friedman—attended. David and Norman spoke of Dick's enormously helpful biography of Cummings, Dreams in the Mirror, of his help as a founding member of the Society and sometime participant in the American Literature Association's annual Cummings panels, and of his contributions to SPRING, the Journal of the Society. To paraphrase Cummings:

                                         dick was a man
                                         grinned his grin
                                         done his chores
                                         laid him down.

                                         Sleep well

—Norman and Zelda Friedman

Some of Richard S. Kennedy 's publications on E. E. Cummings:


Edited Books and Prefaces Articles Major Publications on Thomas Wolfe: Other:

Some RSK links:

Kennedy, Richard S. “The Elusiveness of a Life.” New York Review of Books 27.6 (17 April 1980).  [Letter written in response to Vendler, Helen. “Poet's Gallery.” New York Review of Books (7 February 1980).]

Stehle, Bernard F. “‘Spring is perhapsing’: Acts of Remembering Richard S. Kennedy (1920-2002).” Spring 12 (2003): 7-43.

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