Professor Emeritus Reeve Remembered for Long, Varied Career at Wesleyan

Olivia DrakeJuly 29, 20134min
Franklin Reeve (Briganteen Media)
Franklin Reeve (Photo courtesy of Briganteen Media)

Franklin Reeve, professor of letters, emeritus, passed away on June 28 at the age of 84. He spent four decades at Wesleyan.

Lauded for his luminous intelligence, Reeve was not only an estimable academic, but also a noted poet, writer, translator, editor and critic. He was a juror for the National Book Awards, a consultant for Kirkus Reviews, and served on the governing board, as well as the first vice president, of the Poetry Society of America.

The author of 31 books, Reeve possessed a passion for teaching the written word, too. A recipient of the Binswanger Prize and a member of the Wesleyan Writers Conference Advisory Board, he also served as a visiting writer in the Middletown, Farmington, West Hartford, Bethany and Glastonbury High Schools.

Born in Philadelphia in 1928 and raised outside New York City, Reeve earned his BA from Princeton in 1950 and his Ph.D from Columbia in 1958. He served as a lecturer, instructor and assistant professor at Columbia University prior to joining Wesleyan’s faculty. In 1961, he was selected for a prestigious Exchange Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and USSR Academy of Sciences. The following year, he famously served as Robert Frost’s translator on a good-will mission to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev on behalf of President John F. Kennedy. Reeve also translated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1970 Nobel lecture.

At Wesleyan, “Reeve had a long, varied and unusual 40-year career,” noted Wesleyan Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ruth Striegel Weissman in an all-campus e-mail. He was professor and chair of Russian from 1962 to 1966, before deciding to leave his tenured position here to give more of himself and his time to his writing. In 1967 and 1969, he returned as a part-time visiting professor in the College of Letters, before rejoining Wesleyan’s faculty on a long-term basis the following fall, as a part-time adjunct professor of letters, from 1970 to 1988. Reeve was eventually promoted to part-time professor of letters, with tenure, in 1988, and continued to teach at Wesleyan in that capacity until his retirement in 2002.

“His students and colleagues recognized [Reeve’s] generosity, his wit, and his wide-ranging intellect,” President Michael Roth wrote in his July 6 blog. “I didn’t study with Frank, but many of my friends did, and I experienced him as a formidable presence on campus… A few years ago, Frank came back to campus with a jazz combo for an evening of music and poetry. He still had that openness, along with his lifelong joy in the careful use of language and in the vitality of improvisation.”

His former COL colleague and friend, Paul Schwaber, has penned a touching remembrance posted on President Roth’s July 6 blog. “Widely learned, he was polylingual, witty, keen with pun and irony,” Schwaber said. “He wrote poetry, drama, fiction. He translated. He seemed never to stop writing. He was competitive and judgmental, but only with the best.”

In his later years, Reeve suffered crippling arthritis. “We mourn his death and praise him, a genuine and unique man of letters,” Schwaber said.

Professor Reeve was predeceased by his son, Christopher Reeve, the late actor.