Emory Elliott, a UC Riverside professor and leading scholar of American literature who was a pivotal figure in the university’s intellectual community, has died. He was 66.
Elliott, who was found Tuesday at his Riverside home, died of an apparent heart attack.
As a scholar, he published two groundbreaking books on early American literature, “Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England” (1975) and “Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in the New Republic” (1982), but he was a leading voice on all facets of literature from Puritanism to Postmodernism. He was also influential in expanding the canon to a wide array of diverse voices.
Steven Gould Axelrod, who is an English professor at Riverside, said that Elliott’s advocacy of the work of Toni Morrison “helped her achieve more quickly the status she has now as America’s greatest novelist.”
Katherine Kinney, the chair of UC Riverside’s English Department, said that Elliott " . . . was committed to a full, very open multicultural understanding of American works. Emory wrote about the whole range of American literature and was absolutely committed and supportive of young scholars doing new and exciting study.”
Elliott was closely identified with UC Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society, a research center he directed starting in 1996. Elliott expanded the profile of the center by bringing in grants from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and other sources that helped fuel the center’s lectures, seminars and colloquia as well as its residency programs for UC Riverside faculty and graduate students and fellowships for visiting faculty.
Among his accomplishments in heading the center was the international conference “Aesthetics and Difference: Cultural Diversity, Literature and the Arts.” The conference, held in 1998, examined how the cultural diversity of the United States has changed cultural expression in this country and abroad.
An announcement of his death by the school’s English department this week cited that conference as key to placing “Riverside at the center of national discussions of a progressive future for the Humanities.”
Elliott was born in Baltimore on Oct. 30, 1942, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood. His father was a truck driver who never attended high school, and his mother operated a loom in a factory. Elliott was the first in his family to get a college degree, earning a bachelor’s in English at Loyola College in Baltimore. He went on to earn his master’s degree, also in English, at Bowling Green State University and his doctorate at the University of Illinois.
He began his teaching career as a high school English teacher in Baltimore. His first college job was at Cameron State College in Oklahoma, followed by two years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Before joining the UC Riverside faculty, he spent 17 years teaching at Princeton and was chairman of the American Studies program and, later, the English department.
At Princeton, he also received the Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the Women’s Studies Program before leaving for Riverside in 1989.
In 2001, the University of California system named Elliott a University Professor, an honor for outstanding scholars and teachers viewed as exceptional. The designation allows professors access to all UC campuses, where they can give seminars and engage students and faculty.
The author of more than a dozen books, he also edited the “Columbia Literary History of the United States,” a 1988 book that won the American Book Award, and was the series editor of “The American Novel” from Cambridge University Press and “Penn Studies in Contemporary American Fiction.”
“Emory was endlessly humane, good-humored and intelligent,” Axelrod said. “As a teacher and colleague, he created spaces where others could intellectually thrive. He was one of those scholars who really mattered, whose contributions could not be duplicated.”
Elliott is survived by his wife, Georgia Elliott, the associate vice chancellor for development at UC Riverside; their five children, Scott, Mark, Matt and Laura Elliott and Connie Tremblay; and five grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 374 Jackson St., Riverside. Burial will be private.
Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Emory Elliott Memorial Scholarship Fund through the UC Riverside Foundation, 120A Highlander Hall, Riverside, CA 92521.