March 14, 2022

Edmund Keeley, professor of creative writing, emeritus, and advocate of the humanities at Princeton, dies at 94

Edmund “Mike” Keeley, the inaugural Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English, Emeritus, and professor of creative writing, emeritus, poet and renowned translator of modern Greek poetry, died peacefully at home in Princeton on February 23. He was 94.

edmund keeley smiles with long full beard, wearing suit and tie

Edmund “Mike” Keeley. Photo by Randall Hagadorn

Keeley, a 1949 alumnus, joined Princeton’s faculty in 1954 and transferred to emeritus status in 1994. He taught English, creative writing, comparative literature and translation at Princeton for 40 years and was instrumental in expanding the Program in Creative Writing, which he directed for 16 years, and in establishing the Program in Hellenic Studies.

Keeley served as director of the Program in Creative Writing from 1965 to 1981. He once said he considered it a great reward when both he and his students were moved to tears by discovering something new in literature that touched their hearts. He also said he felt a great debt to the New Criticism, a major source for his work as a critic and teacher in his early years, promoting the close reading of fiction and poetry, as well as an important inspiration for his persistent belief in the value of the humanities. In 2016, the Lewis Center for the Arts established the Edmund Keeley Literary Translation Award, given annually to a promising young translator.

In our community of famously congenial colleagues, Mike’s generosity was legendary…. His work, like his life, was suffused with a sense of purpose, and a particular sort of radiant joy in that purpose. He was one who had loved life — and whom life had loved in return.”
— Joyce Carol Oates, the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus

“Though it was founded as long ago as 1939, the Program in Creative Writing took on something of its present shape and significance only under the leadership of Edmund Keeley,” said Paul Muldoon, Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities and professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts. “Inspired partly by the model of Iowa, he instituted the workshop as the key pedagogical component in the program, allowing students not only to write but, no less importantly, to read the work both of past exemplars and their peers.”

Muldoon continued: “Another key notion was that only the very best practitioners in the field be hired to teach workshops in poetry, prose fiction and literary translation. This last had a special place in Edmund Keeley’s heart, of course, since he himself represented the gold standard in translators of [modern] Greek poetry.”

Read Keeley’s full obituary written by Jamie Saxon on the Princeton University news page.

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