In Memoriam: Professor Arden Reed

Pomona Professor of English Arden Reed died in his home Dec. 20. His attentiveness to detail and passion for literature overpowered the time and space he was in. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

Arden Reed, a Pomona College English professor, died at his home from an aggressive form of cancer Dec. 20, 2017. His educational and personal impact on the literary field and his students will be missed by many.

Reed earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Wesleyan University in 1972, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in comparative literature from Johns Hopkins University. He began his pedagogy as a lecturer at Johns Hopkins, then became an assistant professor at Wayne State University. He joined Pomona as an assistant professor in 1979, and was named the Arthur M. Dole and Fanny M. Dole Professor of English in 2004.

After receiving a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2006, Reed began pursuing research on tableaux vivants, which provoked deep questions about imitational art and attentive artistic judgment. The results of his research became the focal point of his most acclaimed book, “Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell,” published in summer 2017.

“It always seemed perfect to me that … Reed’s name was ‘Arden,’ because it sounds like ‘ardent’ — and no other single word better captures his spirit, and his gift to those of us who loved him,” wrote Kevin Dettmar, chair of Pomona’s English department, in an email to TSL.

Reed was not only an exceptional scholar, but an excellent mentor and teacher, according to his students. As an unusually social and gregarious person, Reed fostered an academic environment where all of his students would be heard and their work appreciated. His intellectual intensity was concentrated on meticulously examining literature and asking innovative questions.

“He was really good at creating a community where quiet people were excited to speak up and us louder people learned how to listen better,” wrote Emma Silverman PO ’19, one of Reed’s students, in a message to TSL.

Silverman said she once wrote a literary analysis paper on a book, which Reed sent to the author, who then read and responded to Silverman. Reed’s mentorship positively impacted her academic and personal journeys because he always tried to apply literature to life.

“I’m someone who thinks and talks very quickly, and Arden taught me to slow down. I learned how to close read passages in his class, but I also learned to be more deliberate in general,” Silverman said.

His office would often have three or four students outside in the hallway, waiting to speak to Reed. However, he would never rush through a conversation with the student he was engaging with. For Reed, his attentiveness to detail and passion for literature overpowered the time and space he was in.

“When he was in this kind of a conversation — with a student, with a colleague, with a visiting speaker — the rest of the room, the rest of the world, just sort of faded away,” Dettmar said. “For that reason, he was often late to our visiting speakers’ presentations; he had been engaged in conversation with a student in his office, and either lost time or, I think more likely, just didn’t care what time it was.”

Professor Reed will be greatly missed by those who knew him.

“I think what I miss the most is just how much he belonged here,” Silverman said. “Arden being in Crookshanks made sense, and it made the building feel more comforting. You could tell he loved his job and his students, but also that he loved Pomona.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Arden Reed’s name in the photo caption. TSL regrets this error.
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