UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Nicholas Howe, scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, dies at age 53

– Nicholas Howe, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, died of complications from leukemia on Sept. 27 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. He was 53.

His works include "The Old English Catalogue Poems: A Study in Poetic Form," and the influential "Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England," which opened up new ways of looking at Old English literature and culture.

Howe's new book, "Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Cultural Geography," will be published by Yale University Press in 2007. Including his latest research on the writings of Bede, an English monk and author who lived 1,300 years ago; "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," ancient annals tracing the history of the Anglo-Saxons; and the epic poem "Beowulf," it was the focus of his work during a year's Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002-2003.

As director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Ohio State University, where he taught before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2003, Howe also edited several collections of essays on topics in medieval culture. He was named a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, the organization's top honor, in 2005.

His most recently published book, "Across an Inland Sea: Writing in Place from Buffalo to Berlin," combined a personal memoir and travel writing, and was illustrated by his own photographs. A Los Angeles Times reviewer observed that with this book, "Howe joins a lineage of well-loved writers, from Henry James to Jan Morris and W.G. Sebald, who wrote about place as a state of mind."

"He wrote movingly and memorably not only on medieval literature, but also on hyenas and unipeds, on metaphor in American political discourse, on construction cranes, on Italo Calvino, C.P. Cavafy, and Joan Didion, on fast-food America, on the desert landscape of Oklahoma and on the academic profession all in graceful, fluent prose," said Roberta Frank, a Yale University professor of English.

Central to his scholarship, Frank said, was a fascination with language, landscape and North American culture. "In article after article, 'The Afterlife of Anglo-Saxon Poetry,' 'The Cultural Construction of Reading,' 'An Angle on this Earth: Senses of Place in Anglo-Saxon England,' 'Beowulf in the House of Dickens,' and 'What We Talk About When We Talk about Style,' he opened up new areas for investigation and wonder," Frank said.

Kevis Goodman, a UC Berkeley professor of English, called Howe's "Across an Inland Sea" a "haunting study of writing in and about places" in his life. She said it blended literary commentary with regional lore and his own photography in chapters on cultural capitals like Paris and Berlin, as well as on Oklahoma and Columbus, Ohio. "Such combinations, among others, testify to the versatility of his writing and thinking, his marvelous ease with both the erudite and the everyday," said Goodman.

Donlyn Lyndon, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of architecture and urban design and a Professor in the Graduate School, had been planning a book with Howe, in which they would exchange thoughts about places they each visited.

"He wrote beautifully of places, the ways in which they suffered and survived changes and the ways in which they continued to intersect with the lives of people," Lyndon said. A letter from their project is being published in the latest issue of the journal Places.

Howe earned his B.A. in English at York University in Toronto in 1974 and his Ph.D. in English from Yale in 1978. He was appointed assistant professor in Rutgers University's English Department in 1978, then left to become an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma in 1985. In 1991, he became full professor at Ohio State, where he became director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, which he built into a nationally recognized program.

"His colleagues feel his loss keenly," said Anne Middleton, a UC Berkeley professor of English. "His intuitive wisdom about the larger institutional enterprise has made him a trusted and treasured colleague, mentor, friend, research interlocutor, and partner in learning. It will be a smaller and poorer place without him."

Family members and colleagues noted that Howe's love of life - good food, good wine, good books, entertaining, travel and good friends - was contagious, and they admired his honesty, courage and thoughtfulness.

Survivors include his widow, Georgina Kleege of Berkeley, and sister, Nina Howe, of Montreal.

A memorial service will be held on campus in coming months.

Kleege requests that donations in Howe's memory be made to the Leukemia Research Foundation (http://www.leukemia-research.org), Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic in Princeton, N.J. (http://www.rfbd.org/), or The Dictionary of Old English at the University of Toronto (http://www.doe.utoronto.ca/).