In Memoriam: Marshall Grossman

March 30, 2011

On March 29, 2011, the University of Maryland’s English department was deeply saddened with the news of the death of Professor Marshall Grossman, who died after a four-month battle with cancer. He was 63 years old.

Marshall Grossman


Marshall Grossman


Marshall Grossman

The department held a memorial service for Professor Grossman on Tuesday, April 26, from 4 to 5 pm at the gallery of the Davic Driskell Center in the Cole Student Activities Building. Program details, and transcripts of some of the euologies, are available here.

Professor Grossman had been a member of the departmental faculty since 1989. He was a renowned and award-winning scholar on Milton, and had published and taught widely on the major figures and major issues of Renaissance literature. He was known to his colleagues as vigorous, brilliant, and intensely committed to intellectual and scholarly life.He was greatly admired by students, and especially beloved by the many graduate students who completed doctoral dissertations under his superb guidance.

David Lee Miller, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, and a close, long-time friend and colleague of Professor Grossman, wrote this:

"If you knew him only by his work, then you knew a lot.  He was a brilliant critic. But those of us who knew him personally saw how the wit and brilliant mind were always in play.  Marshall could talk to you about anything–-politics, history, jazz, the more abstruse reaches of theory. He could make you laugh hard and think harder.  His table talk at the Folger Library lives in legend. To know him well enough was to see an underlying sweetness to his disposition that expressed itself mostly by indirection. Beneath his sometimes sardonic persona, he was an incredibly kind man."

Professor Grossman received his doctorate in 1977 from New York University.  After teaching at Fordham University, he was appointed to the faculty at the University of Maryland as an associate professor.  He earned promotion to full professor in 1996.

Professor Grossman authored such publications as Authors to Themselves: Milton and the Revelation of History (Cambridge University Press, 1987); The Story of All Things: Writing the Self in English Renaissance Narrative Poetry (Duke University Press, 1998); The Seventeenth-Century Literature Handbook (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); edited essay collections including Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon (University Press of Kentucky, 1998) and Reading Renaissance Ethics (Routledge, 2007); and contributed over thirty articles to essay collections and journals, along with numerous reviews.

Professor Grossman was honored with various prizes and awards, including the National Endowment for the Humanities Long-term Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2009-10; the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers and Independent Scholars, 1988-1989; the Fordham University Faculty Fellowship, 1988-1989; the Graduate Research Board Semester Award, 1994; the James Holly Hanford Award (Milton Society of America Book of the Year Award) for Authors to Themselves, 1987; and Outstanding Teacher Award, Celebrating Teachers Program, 1993.

He was an elected member of The Milton Seminar, 1989-present, and an executive board member of the Milton Society, 1989-92.  He had also served on the boards of many journals and scholarly organizations including the Folger Institute and PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association of America.

A famously witty and lively writer, Professor Grossman wrote political blogs for the Huffington Post.

He was interviewed in spring 2008 about his pedagogy; you may view an excerpt from one of his lectures and a discussion of his teaching philosophy in a video by Ben Prinkki here:

Faculty, staff, and students in the English department feel a profound sense of loss, one shared by scholars and colleagues across the nation and around the world.


If you would like to share memories of Professor Grossman, you can do so here.



For Marshall Grossman, tender (on the inside, as turtles are), dear Colleague, with whom we shared many political marches and long nights of watching election returns (2000 was of course the most vexing), and who always had a way of making me laugh.

Tis not the
swaying frame
we miss '
It is the
steadfast Heart,
. . .
Its fervor the
Electric Oar. . . .

Marshall, I will always remember how you called me every day when I had been so gravely ill in 1994, and how we laughed at my becoming a cyborg. Thank you for being with us. . . how we wish you could've stayed a little longer. With love, mn

Martha Nell Smith, University of Maryland, 1 April 2011

I can't remember how the conversation started, but Marshall and I were discussing the M.A. students--one a year--who came to us from the Naval Academy.
"They're such nice guys," he remarked, "non-neurotic, straightforward,action-oriented."
"It's true," I replied, "nos semblables, nos frères."
"What irritates me, though, is that I can't get them to stop calling me sir."
"That's because they think Marshall is your rank."
He seemed to like the idea.

Richard Cross, University of Maryland, 1 April 2011

Years ago the English department went on strike to protest against cuts for t.a. salaries, etc. That's when I discovered the impassioned activist in my scholarly colleague, Marshall. I saw how deeply inequity wounded him, how attuned he was to ways in which class distinctions pervaded the academic culture, and how willing he was to be visible and audible on behalf of a fairer way of doing campus business. He was a very humane man, and that strike allowed those qualities to shine in a particularly vivid way.

Joyce Kornblatt, University of Maryland (retired), 2 April 2011

As chair of the Department in 1989 when we hired Marshall Grossman, I remember him with great admiration and affection. Whether at lunch with colleagues or participating in discussion at department meetings, he spoke always with a wonderful combination of wit and intellectual authority. I remember Marshall's lively skepticism about received opinions, and I also recall that he never lapsed into a sterile cynicism. The department and the students are diminished by his loss.

Deirdre David, Professor Emerita of English, Temple University

I look back at Professor Grossman's class with both embarrassment and admiration. The entire semester was day after day of learned stand-up comedy about the Seventeenth Century, but we were all too dim at the time to appreciate it. Now I cannot read Paradise Lost without hearing Marshall's joke about angelic digestion, and I will never assign Aemilia Lanyer without stealing from his scathing bit about whether she was Shakespeare's Dark Lady. He terrified and thrilled us, and I learned more from him than he ever knew.

Dr. Meg Pearson, University of West Georgia, 3 April 2011

Marshall was an inspiration to me, and so I have composed a memorial to him on the blog that I keep for my students, colleagues, and friends. Here is the link to a fuller description of my fond memory of him:

Steven Thomas, College of St. Benedict, St. John's University, 3 April 2011

As a graduate student, I bonded with Marshall Grossman over memories of Binghamton U., I lamenting the name change from SUNY Binghamton and he from Harpur College. He was a great professor, and he will be missed.

Jeana DelRosso, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 3 April 2011

I took Prof Grossman's Literary Theory class as a new graduate student in 2001. I have not learned so much in one single semester. Prof Grossman was sardonic, witty and brilliant. He initiated my enduring interest in critical theory and its centrality in literary discourse. I have often gone back to my notes from his class for useful tips for my own teaching. This was also my very first year in the US and Prof Grossman was quietly thoughtful and kind even though he never directly inquired about anything outside of class matters. I deeply appreciated that quiet understanding and he was one of the first people I emailed after I completed my PhD in 2008. Thank you, Prof Grossman. I will forever cherish your memory. Rest in Peace.

Nirmala Menon, Saint Anselm College, 4 April 2011

After moving to DC in '07 I got to know Marshall at the Folger. His quick wit & humor were always in evidence; behind an endearingly cranky exterior he had a real generosity of spirit. He volunteered to read an article of mine in progress, and commented on it with sympathy and insight even though it argued in the opposite direction from his own work. Once we were discussing -Samson Agonistes- on the steps of the Folger. "You know,"Marshall said, "it comes down to this: Milton thought Samson was pretty good for a Jew." Classic Marshall: clever, down-to-earth formulation of a serious argument. I'd always meant to ask him if I could quote that remark in print. Now it's too late to ask him, so this will be the only place I record it.

Tobias Gregory, The Catholic University of America, 4 April 2011

I only met Marshall a few times but treasure what he said as well as what he wrote. He gave me a sense of what is possible as an academic, without fear or compromise--but with humour and compassion. I miss him, he will always have a place in my heart as well as my bookshelf, and the world is a poorer place without him.

Roy Sellars, English, University of St Gallen, Switzerland, 9 April 2011

Dr. Marshall Grossman was an integral part of my graduate school experience. I took classes from him, I served as his TA, and he sat on my comprehensive and dissertation committees. He hated Alexander Pope--a fact he never failed to mention—-but I managed to drag him on to my doctoral committee even though my project concludes with Pope. Everyone has already commented on what a brilliant scholar he was, which of course he was. I was always amazed about how much he knew about any author or text that was mentioned. He pressed me on weak spots or questions, yet always gave me room to answer. And he was an invested teaching mentor.

I don’t have one moment that stands out over the others, but I have lots of fond memories. The times he introduced me to scholars at the Folger as another one of his students needing a job--and he ALWAYS made sure to introduce me to others. The time he taught my discussion sections for his class because my grandmother died. The time I was assigned to give a class presentation, but Marshall’s introduction didn’t end, and I had to ask him to stop because he was giving my entire presentation! The sharp and helpful comments he gave me on my work. His zombie-movie references in his Milton seminar . . .

Dr. Grossman, you are missed.

Joanne Roby, University of Maryland, 10 April 2011

When I came to the University of Maryland, I was advanced in years but a novice in teaching seminars. I was so lucky to have Marshall as a colleague and it was an inspiration to sit in on one of his classes and see the way he bounced wit and intelligence at the students and had them warmly responding, past their constant surprise. Amazing pedagogy--the students loved him yet he never dumbed down. After all he was that way with everyone. He was passionate about the distinctive strangeness--and comedy--of literary texts. He was impatient with anyone who tried to tuck them too easily into historical boxes, and he loved to debate, but never leaving any doubt about 
the underlying generosity of spirit. Thank you, Marshall.

David Norbrook, Oxford University, 13 April 2011

Epitaphium Martialis, based on Milton's Epitaphium Damonis (1639)

Hesperides Musae, collegam semper amantes
Dicite maestitiae sinuosa per oppida carmen,
Nunc miser effudens voces, suspiria coetus
Tantis assiduis exercuit corda querellis,
Dum sibi praereptum queritus doctum sociumque.

Judith Hallett, Classics, University of Maryland, 17 April 2011


Marshall Grossman at the Milton Conference, Budapest, 2008Milton Conference 2008
Photo Credit: Stella Revard


When Marshall's son Jacob was a just a few months his father, holding up a tiny plush dinosaur, held him spellbound with a lecture on signifiers and signifieds. On the other hand, Marshall could lull a wakeful babe to sleep by intoning an endlessly elaborated story about the transit of coffee from bean to cup. When Jacob was a couple of years older, Marshall would entertain him, and us all, singing, to the tune of 'Ach Lieber Augustine', a song of 'All the Neo-Platonists are Nut-Jobs, are Nuts' with verse improvised for each eminence. The light and dark were co-mingled in this exemplary explicator of Milton's Paradise and his Satan. Marshall's brilliance illumined all it glanced on. Without it all our worlds are a bit obscured.

Annlinn Kruger, 21 April 2011