Lis Harris
April 01, 2022
Richard Howard headshot

Our beloved colleague—poet, translator, essayist and critic Richard Howard, who taught at Columbia (which he also attended as an undergraduate) for nearly 30 years, died on Thursday at the age of 92. The range of his work was prodigious and it garnered many awards—the Pulitzer prize (1970) for his collection, Untitled Subjects, the PEN Translation Prize (1976) for his translation of E.M. Cioran’s A Short History of Decay, and the National Book Award (1984) for his translation of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal.

Over the years, more awards and honors were heaped on him, including the American Book Award, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the PEN Translation Medal, the Levinson Prize and the Ordre National du Mérite from the government of France. He was a long-time poetry editor of the Paris Review and a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. 

Professor Howard was credited with introducing modern French fiction, especially the Nouveau Roman, to the American Public. Erudite and witty, his poems were frequently structured as dramatic monologues in which historical figures—Henry James, Oscar Wilde or Walt Whitman—speak directly to the reader, or dialogues in which he has imaginary conversations with eminent literary figures. Sometimes, in class, he would refer to these writers in conversation, by their first names: Emily. Jane. Edith.

His translations of more that 100 books into English also won him high praise. Had he “done nothing but translate all his life,” one critic remarked, “he would have been one of the greatest translators who ever blessed English."

Those of us who taught alongside him knew Richard as a generous and energetic mentor of students. He met with his students in his apartment downtown, which had so many bookshelves it resembled the college library stacks, and he more than once gave students with financial problems his own money to tide them over.


He is survived by his life partner, the painter David Alexander and will be remembered by his many, many friends.