- Stuart Levine (1932–2016)
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For the last several years, it seems that each new issue of the Edgar Allan Poe Review brings with it the sad announcement of the death of another icon in the field of Poe studies. On this solemn roll, I now inscribe the name of Stuart Levine, who died on October 29, 2016, at the age of eighty-four.
Stuart George Levine, although he rarely used his middle name, was born on May 25, 1932, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Max and Jean Levine, owned a very successful haberdashery in Hempstead. He left New York for college, attending Harvard University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated in 1954, magna cum laude. From Harvard, he went to Brown University, where he earned an M.A. (1956) and Ph.D. (1958).
To prepare for a trip to Argentina in 1961, he felt that he needed to brush up on his Spanish. Accordingly, he enrolled in an intensive language course taught by, as he would later recall, “a lovely twenty-three-year-old grad student.” Her name was Susan Fleming Matthews, and they would be married on June 6, [End Page 104] 1963, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (In a 2012 interview, Dr. Levine laughingly added, “It was absolutely untrue I dated her to get better grades in the class.”)
With his degree from Brown fresh in his hands, the newly minted Dr. Levine began his career at the University of Kansas in 1958, serving a formative role for the Department of American Studies, for which he was the chair for many years. In 1960, he founded the scholarly journal American Studies, of which he was the primary editor for thirty years. He remained at the university for thirty-four years, with a few digressions of exchange teaching and Fulbright scholarships, retiring in 1992. (His wife, Susan, served for more than a dozen years as an assistant dean in the Graduate School at the university until her retirement, also in 1992.)
In an unofficially published monograph of sixteen pages, called “Becoming Poe Scholars,” Dr. Levine admits that as a student, “although I respected him as a craftsman, I didn’t much like Poe.” Notwithstanding this personal evaluation, he somewhat unexpectedly ended up writing about Poe as the focus for both his M.A. thesis and his doctoral dissertation. He further goes on to show that Poe got his revenge, describing “how Poe scholarship, like the quicksand in an old Hollywood B movie, sucked in first me and then Susan.” He and his wife would culminate their Poe work with two highly regarded volumes originally intended for Burton Pollin’s continuation of the Mabbott edition. The travails of plans, efforts, setbacks, and complications is itself quite a tale, with the books ultimately ending up being published separately by the University of Illinois Press.
In addition to teaching, he was a founding member of the Lawrence Woodwind Quintet, in which he played the French horn. (He had supported himself financially during his years in graduate school by playing for the Rhode Island Philharmonic.) Like Burton Pollin, he was, for most of his life, an active and enthusiastic cyclist.
Obviously enough, his classes often touched on the subject of fiction writing, but we has not merely a critic and analyst of other writers’ prose. He was himself an author of numerous short stories, which he initially published under the somewhat unlikely-sounding pseudonym of Esteban O’Brien Cordoba, so that his students would feel free to critique the stories in class. These short stories appeared in the pages of a variety of magazines, among them the Chicago Review, Short Story, the New Mexico Humanities Review, the South Dakota Review, and The Distillery. A collection of stories printed under his own name as The Monday-Wednesday-Friday Girl and Other Stories was published by Woodley Press in 1994. According to the publisher’s website, “Stuart Levine’s [End Page 105] stories treat unfamiliar subjects: the professional (as well as personal) lives of oboists, businesswomen, art agents, Mexican intellectuals, flower-growers, painters and brokers among them. We meet women comfortable...