Friday, April 12, 2013

In Memoriam Professor Lawrence D. Stewart

We lament the passing of a gentleman and a scholar, Lawrence D. Stewart, age 86, in Beverly Hills, California, March 8, 2013.

Lawrence Stewart was an inspiration and a guide to those who knew him as a teacher, colleague, writer, and friend. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University (1952) and taught at California State University, Northridge, as Professor of English from 1969 until his retirement some thirty years later. He specialized in 19th and 20th century British and American literature and directed the English honors program for many years. He was a scrupulous reader of literature who could bring it to life for students, who remember him and his approach to literature and life to this day. One of his students from many years ago, Pieter Bogaards, who led his graveside memorial service, said:

“Lawrence made one feel understood, and allowed candor, imparted confidence, and encouraged self-examination and unguarded expression. He was a most constant gardener cultivating talent, intelligence, and self-exploration all around him. He valued self-portraiture—in words or art. Lawrence loved not just the artistic talent but the exposed self. In words, he exchanged even my trifling perceptions with insight. He endowed the works with more value in the reading and interpretation than they ever possessed in the writing. And he valued imagination even if short on analysis. But nor was Lawrence deceptively indulgent. He did not withhold his view, however tenderly proffered. Lawrence would not, as he would say, ‘Ratify a lunacy.’”

Lawrence was well dressed, with impeccable taste and manners, and opened his Beverly Hills Monterey-style house, which was full of books from floor to ceiling, to students and faculty alike. His connections with prominent figures in the world of Hollywood and popular music stemmed from his position as archivist to Ira Gershwin for fifteen years, during which he organized materials that shaped the music and culture of America, now in the Library of Congress. He produced two books from this: The Gershwin Years: George and Ira, with Edward Jablonski, and The Gershwins: Words Upon Music.

He wrote over forty album essays for Verve and Reprise Records, mainly on musical comedy, and produced and wrote jacket essays for phonograph albums of readings by Alice B. Toklas, Evelyn Waugh, and Dorothy Parker, with interviews of both Toklas and Parker. He was a Wordsworth scholar and a devotee of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and he wrote the first critical book on writer and cultural figure Paul Bowles, Paul Bowles: The Illumination of North Africa. He was a friend of Paul and Jane Bowles and music greats Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Mabel Schirmer, and Kay Swift.

Lawrence had extensive collections of rare books, including a 1483 Bible, and first editions of writers such as Fitzgerald and Stein. He gifted over 15,000 books, including those of his lifelong partner, Donald Adams, Professor of English at Occidental College, to the rare book collections at Northwestern University, where Lawrence and Donald had met as undergraduates. He also collected prints of 18th century caricaturist James Gillray, as well as Chinese and Korean porcelains and Japanese painted scrolls, some from the 14th century. Along with Adams, he founded and edited The Mystery and Detection Annual, a scholarly journal that published critical and creative work pertinent to the genre.

Lawrence’s distinguished academic work and popular music writing complemented his genial manner, sometimes impish humor, and his frequent role as host both at home and his office, with its permanently opened door. There he would treat visitors to cookies and freshly made tea, calming and reassuring anxious students about their fledgling intellectual abilities. Rather than a formalist critic, Stewart was a conscientious reader of writing, whose approach might be called humanistic and philosophic. He instructed students on how to pay attention to the nuance of words, their sounds, their suggestiveness, in conveying the outlook of the writer. The writers he loved and studied could not be fully appreciated without such skill in reading. Teachers like him become key influences to generations of students long after they are gone.

Lawrence D. Stewart now lies with his parents and partner in Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana.

—by Nancy Williams and Robert Louis Chianese