In Memoriam Theodore Ziolkowski

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death on December 5 of Theodore Ziolkowski, professor emeritus and former graduate dean at Princeton; prolific scholar of German Studies, the Classics, and much more; author of thirty-five books and countless articles; and a dedicated family man whose three children followed in his footsteps as academics. He was a true renaissance man. I also felt a strong sense of gratitude for having had the experience of working with him to publish his last three books, Music into Fiction (2017), Stages of European Romanticism (2018),and Roman Poets in Modern Guise (2020). Ted was a figure I looked up to from early in my career at Camden House, and I am blessed and honored to have experienced first-hand his dedication, intellectual agility, and generosity.

I first learned of Ted in the mid-1990s. I had recently begun working for Camden House when we published the Festschrift for him, Themes and Structures: Studies in German Literature from Goethe to the Present, which was presented to him for his sixty-fifth birthday in 1997. The co-founder and then-owner of Camden House, Jim Hardin, who had been a professor of mine at South Carolina, held Ted in the utmost esteem, and the contributors to the Festschrift made up an all-star list of German Studies scholars. I got a sense of Ted’s stature in the profession from his list of publications—countless articles and approximately fifteen books at the time—and the astounding breadth of the topics they covered. Another clear indication of his prominence not just in German Studies but in the Humanities more broadly was that he had served in the mid-1980s as president of the Modern Language Association, a position that is very unusual for a German Studies scholar to attain, but of course Ted was much more than that. After taking over editorial duties for Camden House in the early 2000s, I always had hopes of publishing one of Ted’s many books.

 Partly because I knew he routinely published with prestigious university presses like Chicago, Yale, Princeton, and so on, I was reticent to approach him. Ted contributed essays to several of our books, and served as outside reader for at least two, providing extraordinarily helpful and learned reports. In 2016, in thanking him for one such superlative reader report, I ventured that I would be thrilled if he ever had a book project he would like to publish with Camden House.

I didn’t expect my entrée would meet with any success, certainly not immediately, but lo and behold, his response was, “As a matter of fact, I’m just finishing one now, shall I send it to you?” That was Music into Fiction, during the work on which I learned that Ted had been a classically trained trumpet player who played jazz professionally into his thirties before giving it up to better concentrate on his academic pursuits. When he had completed that book, I, feeling fortunate to have published one of his books, again threw out an invitation to him, should he ever have another he’d like to have us consider. Again, the answer was “I’m just finishing one up now”! That was Stages of European Romanticism, in which he masterfully synthesizes critical treatment of art forms most often viewed singly: music, visual art, literature. Then the process repeated itself yet again, resulting in our publication of Roman Poets in Modern Guise, another tour de force showing the influence and reception of the Roman Classics on twentieth-century poets in English and several other languages.

When he was wrapping up work on that third book (and he was as pleasant to work with and efficient—always on or ahead of deadline!—as he was learned, and gifted as a writer), Ted told me that he thought this would be his last,  and that it would be “only” articles from there on out. Knowing how excellent he was at writing books and sensing how much pleasure it gave him, I half-expected him to be in touch at some point with another manuscript, despite his claim that those days were behind him. It was not to be, but I am grateful and extremely honored to have been able to publish three of his works, and to just have been associated with the man. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife of seventy years, Yetta.

This guest post was written by Jim Walker, Editorial Director, Camden House.