In Memoriam: John Jefferson (Jeff) Humphries
It is with great regret that we share the sad news that our long-time colleague and
friend John Jefferson (Jeff) Humphries, LSU Foundation Professor of French Studies
and of English, passed away on Saturday, September 20, 2014 at his home in New Orleans.
Jeff Humphries was a person of great talents and his contributions to the department
and to the university since his arrival in 1982 are immense and long lasting.
Jeff earned his BA from Duke in 1977 and his PhD from Yale in French and Comparative
Literature in 1981, joining the LSU faculty as Assistant Professor in Fall 1982. He
quickly showed his brilliance, with his teaching and scholarship being recognized
by quick and regular promotion, and his administrative work undertaken with skill
and energy. He became Associate Professor in 1985, Professor in 1986 with joint appointment
in the Department of English, and LSU Foundation Professor in 1999. In addition, he
received the LSU Foundation Distinguished Faculty Award in 1993 and was named Chevalier
de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2001.
His scholarship was marked by range, precision, and depth. He wrote and taught on
figures from Villon and Shakespeare to Blanchot and Glissant; on writers and topics
from France, the Caribbean, Louisiana, the Southern United States, and Japan; and
in the genres of scholarly prose, fiction, and poetry. The excellence of his work
was recognized by glowing reviews from major figures and by grants from the ACLS,
NEH, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH), the Louisiana Education Quality
Support Fund (LEQSF), and the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Among his most noteworthy works are Katrina, mon amour (Paris: Seuil; 2008); Collected
Poems of Edouard Glissant. (English translation, with notes and introduction; University
of Minnesota Press, 2005); Borealis (a collection of Humphries’s poems; University
of Minnesota Press, 2002); Reading Emptiness: Buddhism and Literature (SUNY, 1999);The
Puritan and the Cynic: the Literary Moralist in America and France (Oxford University
Press, 1987); and The Otherness Within: Gnostic Readings in Marcel Proust, Flannery
O'Connor, and Francois Villon (LSU Press, 1983).
He was an inventive and dedicated teacher, directing many PhD dissertations and MA
theses, as well as teaching a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses, including
a number of translation courses that were a highlight of the department’s curriculum
for many years.
Jeff held the full range of departmental posts, serving energetically and carefully
as Director of Graduate Studies from 1985-1990, Associate Chair 1993-1997, and Chair
from 1997-2002. In addition, he was on the Steering Committee for the Program in Comparative
Literature for many years. During his time as Chair, he oversaw many important changes
in the department, including naming it the Department of French Studies from its previous
incarnation as the Department of French and Italian; the creation of the Ubaye Valley
Program; and the founding, with Louis Curet, of the Friends of French Studies. He
was a prolific fundraiser and grant writer as well; his work in that capacity greatly
helped students and faculty.
On a personal level, Jeff’s skill as a raconteur, his quick wit and sly humor, were
remarkable, as was his generosity. And his love for and care of his many animal companions
– some of rare and exotic beauty – was legendary.
He will be greatly missed and we will work together to create a suitable memorial
to his life and work with us. A memorial service for the LSU community is planned
for late January 2015.