Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2004 Newsletter

The Kenner Era


Hugh Kenner and Chuck Jones. No date.
Photographer unknown.

Critic, author, and professor of literature Hugh Kenner passed away on November 24, 2003, at his home in Athens, Georgia. He was 80 years old.

Kenner was regarded as America's foremost commentator on literary modernism, especially the work of Ezra Pound and James Joyce. His archive resides at the Ransom Center.

Kenner's eclectic interests are represented in the 25 books he penned, the 200 others he contributed to, and in the nearly 1,000 articles he composed, as well as in broadcasts and recordings. He covered such broad-ranging topics as Irish poetry, geodesic math, and the animation of Chuck Jones.

But it was for his work related to English-language literary modernism and for his books Dublin's Joyce (1956), The Pound Era (1971), and Joyce's Voices (1978) that Kenner was revered.

Los Angeles Times critic Richard Eder once wrote of Kenner: "[He] doesn't write about literature; he jumps in, armed and thrashing. He crashes it, like a party-goer who refuses to hover near the door but goes right up to the guest of honor, plumps himself down, sniffs at the guest's dinner, eats some and begins a one-to-one discussion. You could not say whether his talking or his listening is done with greater intensity."

Kenner was born in Peterborough, Ontario on January 7, 1923, the son of Henry Rowe Hocking Kenner, the principal, instructor of Latin and Greek, and baseball coach of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational Institute, and Mary Isabel (Williams) Kenner, a classics teacher. After graduating from the Peterborough institute, he attended the University of Toronto, where he studied under Marshall McLuhan.

Kenner completed his Ph.D. at Yale in 1950, and his thesis was published in 1951 as The Poetry of Ezra Pound. In it, he criticized Pound for having delivered propaganda speeches in Italy during World War II in support of that country's fascist government, while at the same time he argued on behalf of the poet's important literary achievement. The book received the Porter Prize in 1950.

Over time, his prose style grew increasingly graceful, witty and accessible, prompting C. K. Stead, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, to call him "the most readable of living critics."  

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