GUY DAVENPORT — IN MEMORIAM
Guy Mattison Davenport, Jr., a Distinguished Alumni Professor of English at the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, and winner of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (the "genius grant"), who taught at Haverford from 1961 to 1963, passed away on January 5th at the Lucille Parker Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
Acting Dean of Admission and Athletic Director Greg Kannerstein, a student when Professor Davenport was at Haverford, describes him as "something of an icon to Haverford English majors and other students of that era"; other contemporaries, here in the 1960s, suggest that Davenport was among the most distinguished writers and scholars in the College's English department in the 20th century.
Erik Reece, a member of the English department at the University of Kentucky, says about Davenport, a close friend: "He was the most intellectually alive person I've ever met . . . an unqualified genius, so he talked over everybody's head, but in a way that made you want to get to where he was. Davenport was always excited about the incredible possibilities for inventiveness in art, which is why he loved modernism. He lived by the poet William Carlos Williams' quotation: 'Invent!'"
Davenport was a Rhodes Scholar in 1948 at Oxford University, after having dropped out of high school in Anderson, South Carolina, in 1944 to study art at Duke University. He wrote the first thesis on James Joyce to be accepted at Merton College, Oxford, then went on to serve from 1950 to 1952 in the U.S. 18th Airborne Corps. He met the poet Ezra Pound, while teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, and did his doctoral thesis at Harvard on Pound's Cantos.
In 1974, Scribner's published his first collection of short stories, Tatlin!, and in 1979, a second, DaVinci's Bicycle. In 1981 he published Geography of the Imagination, a collection of 40 essays, and Ecologues. Among his other works, from the early 1980s through the late 1990s, were Thasos and Ohio, a volume of poems; The Jules Verne Steam Balloon, another short story collection; A Table of Green Fields and The Cardiff Team. In 1997 came The Hunter Gracchus, essays on literature and art (he always retained his avid interest in art, and was actually miffed at Loren Ghiglione '63, now Dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, then an editor at The Haverford News, who'd slighted one of his exhibited paintings). In 1998, Davenport published Objects on a Table, a profound aesthetic on the nature of the representation of objects in art and literature.
Among his many prizes, in addition to the MacArthur, were the O. Henry Award for short stories; the Morton Douwen Zabel Award for fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and letters; the Leviton-Blumenthal Prize for poetry, as well as awards from PEN and the Academy of American Poets. In 1998 he was elected a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Professor Davenport, 77, is survived by a sister, Gloria Williamson, of South Carolina, and by his 40-year companion, Bonnie Jean Cox.
"I've learned I can get by with Campbell's soup and Snicker's bars", he once remarked, and said that what he wanted in life was "to teach Thomas Mann, and Joyce, and Proust."