In Memoriam: John Felstiner

John Felstiner, Stanford Professor and poetry scholar, dies at age 80

It is with great sadness that we share the news that longtime ASLE member Louis John Felstiner, Jr., died on February 24, 2017 at the age of eighty. Professor Felstiner was a translator, literary critic, teacher, poet, and ardent environmentalist. He is survived by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, his wife of over fifty years, their two children, Sarah and Alek, and two grandchildren, Brayden and Asa.

Professor Felstiner was born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1936. He attended Exeter Academy and Harvard University, then served for three years as a naval officer on the USS Forrestal before returning to Harvard to earn a PhD. He taught at Stanford University, in English, Jewish Studies, and Comparative Literature, from 1965 until his retirement in 2009. American Poetry Review published his translations as well as a series of six essays on poetry and ecological awareness.

Through translations of poets such as Paul Celan and Pablo Neruda, Professor Felstiner pioneered a critical approach to literary translation that incorporates history, poetics, and self-reflection. His books Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu and Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew fused literary criticism and biography, while exposing readers to the art and mechanics of translation. Professor Felstiner augmented his scholarly pursuits with political activism. He organized support for oppressed poets and academics abroad, and in later years devoted himself to environmentalism and the nexus of poetry and ecological recognition. His other works include Can Poetry Save the Earth?, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, The Lies of Art, The Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature (co-ed.), this dust of words (now a documentary by Bill Rose), and numerous essays on literature and translation, as well as his own poetry. In 2010 he established the Save the Earth Poetry Prize, an annual high school poetry competition for poems that “evoke humankind’s awareness of the natural world.”

In addition to teaching at Stanford, Professor Felstiner taught at the University of Chile, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yale University, and Stanford’s programs in Oxford and Paris. He received the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, as well as honors from the Modern Languages Association, PEN West, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Commonwealth Club of California, among others. Professor Felstiner held Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA, and NEH fellowships. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

Professor Felstiner was a lifelong athlete and music lover. He played varsity soccer and lacrosse at Harvard, and continued to swim every day until shortly before he died. He also performed in amateur singing groups from high school through college, and up until retirement. Professor Felstiner and his wife were devoted patrons and fixtures in attendance at Stanford’s Lively Arts programs. He often brought musicians and recordings into his classrooms to draw connections between music and poetry. As an active and committed Jew, Professor Felstiner served on the Board of Stanford Hillel, participated in services, offered courses in Jewish Studies, and helped organize events and bring speakers to campus.

A private memorial is planned for later this spring. In lieu of any memorial gifts, the family suggests donations in Professor Felstiner’s memory to the Sempervirens Fund or the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

Read the Stanford University article on John’s life and career here: