In memoriam: J. Michael Holquist, scholar of Slavic language and literature

 J. Michael Holquist, professor of comparative literature emeritus and former chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, died at home on June 26. He was 80 years old.

Throughout his career, Holquist published articles on a wide variety of topics, including utopian fiction, detective stories, and many Russian writers. In 1977, he released his first book, “Dostoevsky and the Novel,” an exploration of the relationship between the writing of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, the history of novels, and the development of the Russian national identity. Holquist then devoted many years to studying the work of Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, earning critical acclaim as a pioneer in that field. Holquist translated and edited four volumes of Bakhtin’s work and co-wrote, with Yale colleague Katerina Clark, the biography “Mikhail Bakhtin.” He is also the author of “Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World,” which is widely acknowledged as an important guide to Bakhtin‘s extensive work in literary theory.

Holquist was born on December 20, 1935, in Rockford, Illinois. He learned Russian when he served in the U.S. Army, after which he received a B.A. from the University of Illinois (Urbana campus). He then won a Woodrow Wilson scholarship to the Slavic department at Yale, receiving his Ph.D. in 1968. Holquist taught at Yale until 1975, during which he was instrumental in establishing the popular literature major. Between 1975 and 1986, he served as chair of the Slavic department at both the University of Texas at Austin and Indiana University. He returned to Yale in 1986, where he taught until his retirement in 2005. In retirement, Holquist continued to teach at universities around New York City, where he was a member of the Society of Senior Scholars at Columbia University, and ran a wine-importing business with his wife.

“To his colleagues and many students, Holquist was known as a passionate teacher and thinker, widely read in philosophy and other literatures and always ready to follow the adventure of thought wherever it led,” says Peter Brooks, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale, who is now at Princeton University.

Holquist is survived by his widow, Elise Snyder; his sons Peter, Benjamin, Nicholas, and Sebastian; and his stepdaughters Katherine Snyder and Margaret Hamilton. He was predeceased by his son Joshua. A memorial service will be held at the Riverside Memorial Chapel at 180 West 76 St., New York, NY, from 2-3:30 PM on Sunday, September 25.