Hugh Kenner

Hugh Kenner

William Hugh Kenner (January 7, 1923 – November 24, 2003), was a Canadian literary scholar, critic and professor.

Kenner was born in Peterborough, Ontario, on January 7, 1923; his father taught classics. Kenner attributed his interest in literature to his poor hearing, caused by a bout of influenza during his childhood.

Attending the University of Toronto, Kenner studied under Marshall McLuhan, who wrote the introduction to Kenner's first book Paradox in Chesterton, about G. K. Chesterton's works. Kenner's second book, The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1951) was dedicated to McLuhan, who had introduced Kenner to Pound on June 4, 1948, during Pound's incarceration at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, D.C., where Kenner and McLuhan had driven as a detour from their trip from Toronto to New Haven, Connecticut. (Pound, who became a friend of Kenner's, had suggested the book be titled The Rose in the Steel Dust.) Later, Kenner said of McLuhan, "I had the advantage of being exposed to Marshall when he was at his most creative, and then of getting to the far end of the continent shortly afterward, when he couldn't get me on the phone all the time. He could be awfully controlling." Later, when McLuhan wrote that the development of cartography during the Renaissance created a geographical sense that had never previous existed, Kenner sent him a postcard reading in full: "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, Yours, Hugh.""

In 1950, Kenner earned a Ph.D. from Yale University, with a dissertation on James Joyce, James Joyce: Critique in Progress, for Cleanth Brooks. This work, which won the John Addison Porter Prize at Yale, became Dublin's Joyce in 1956. His first teaching post was at the University of California, Santa Barbara (1951 to 1973); he then taught at Johns Hopkins University (from 1973 to 1990) and the University of Georgia (from 1990 to 1999).

Kenner played an influential role in raising Ezra Pound's profile among critics and other readers of poetry. The publication of The Poetry of Ezra Pound in 1951 "was the beginning, and the catalyst, for a change in attitude toward Pound on the American literary and educational scenes." The Pound Era, the product of years of scholarship and considered by many to be Kenner's masterpiece, was published in 1971. This work was responsible for enshrining Pound's reputation (damaged by his wartime activities) as one of the greatest Modernists.

Though best known for his work on modernist literature, Kenner's range of interests was wide. His books include an appreciation of Chuck Jones, an introduction to geodesic math, and a user's guide for the Heathkit H100/Zenith Z-100 computer; in his later years was a columnist for both Art & Antiques and Byte magazine. Kenner was also a contributor to National Review magazine and a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr.

Kenner was married twice: his first wife, Mary Waite, died in 1964; the couple had three daughters and two sons. His second wife, whom he married in 1965, was Mary-Anne Bittner; they had a son and a daughter. Hugh Kenner died at his home in Athens, Georgia on November 24, 2003.

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