Professor of English (1969-1996)
Presented: Aug. 29, 2023, by Margaret Thickstun, professor of literature and creative writing
William Rosenfeld was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1926. He joined the Navy in 1943, serving for three years. He completed his undergraduate degree in American studies at Utica College in 1951 and his master’s and doctorate at the University of Minnesota. Before coming to the Hill, Bill taught at the University of Maine, Wilmington College, Central Michigan College, and Baldwin Wallace College, and held a Fulbright lectureship in Rio de Janeiro. He was appointed as an associate professor at Kirkland College in 1969 and then chaired the Arts Division from 1972 to 1975. After a year as a Fulbright lecturer in Macedonia, Bill returned to the merging Kirkland/Hamilton faculty, earning tenure at Hamilton in 1978. He retired in 1996 as the Robert and Marjorie McEwen Professor of English.
Bill published in a variety of forms: poems, short stories, an article on Moby Dick, an introduction to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for a press in Macedonia. With his wife, Irma, who also taught at Hamilton, Bill translated and published Macedonian folktales. After he retired, Bill completed a book about Giuseppe Garibaldi’s years in Brazil.
But Bill’s main passion was teaching and encouraging others in developing their creativity. At Kirkland,he developed one of the first undergraduate creative writing programs in the country. When the colleges merged, Bill brought his creative writing concentration to Hamilton. Bill insisted on disciplined work habits in the creative writing courses, as well as broad general knowledge of the literary tradition. Jean D’Costa, the Leavenworth Professor of English emerita, remembers how pleased Bill was that creative writing students frequently outperformed the English majors on the departmental comprehensive exam. But he was also an approachable teacher who, as one former student wrote, “not only helped us become better writers but better, stronger people.” To supplement the classroom experience for students, Bill organized and conducted an annual intercollegiate reading series at the College that brought student writers from other schools to Hamilton for a long weekend of workshops and readings, and he wanted those weekends to be festive. Professor of Literature and Africana Studies Vincent Odamtten remembers Bill assuring him, “budgets are really just guidelines.”
Upon his retirement, Hamilton created The William Rosenfeld Chapbook Prize in Creative Writing in his honor.
John O’Neill, professor of English emeritus, remembers Bill as a mentor not only to students but to other faculty as well. John attests that Bill helped him to become a better teacher, who listened more carefully to students and directed them more gently. But John also reports that Bill taught him “to ask questions that would make my own life more fulfilling.”
And Bill definitely took his own advice. He was an athlete and an outdoorsman, a gardener who produced incredible tomatoes (and turned his cucumbers into delicious kosher dill pickles), a craftsman not only with words but also with pencils, paint, wood, and fabric, a man who knew how to play with children, and an advocate for civil rights.
As a public intellectual, Bill frequently gave talks at local libraries and community colleges. Beginning in 1978, he organized writing groups at local retirement communities. He began publishing a collection of their work (My Window is a Line) annually beginning in 1980. Bill continued teaching in retirement, hosting a writing group at Acacia Village that was active right up to his death.
Bill died on May 14, 2023. He is survived by his wife, Irma, and their three children—sons Daniel and Andrew, who both graduated from Hamilton College, and daughter Nina—several grandchildren and one great-grandchild.