ROBERT HAROLD SIEGEL August 18, 1939 - December 20, 2012
Robert Harold Siegel, 73, poet and novelist, transitioned to eternal life on December 20, 2012. Born in Oak Park, Illinois, to Frederick William and Charlotte Lucille Chance Siegel, his immediate family circle includes his high school sweetheart and loving wife of 51 years, Ann Hill Siegel, his three daughters, Lenaye Marsten, Lucy Preston, and Christine Elder, his sister, Janet Siegel Rogers, and four beloved grandchildren: Julianna, Alexandria, Patrick, and Maximillian.
Robert graduated valedictorian of the class of 1957 from Arlington Heights High School in Illinois before attending Denison University for two years and receiving his BA in English from Wheaton College in 1961. A favorite professor and lifelong friend was Dr. Clyde Kilby, founder of Wheaton's Wade Center, housing manuscripts of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Robert was awarded a Gilman Fellowship for Writing Seminars and attended Johns Hopkins University for his MA in Writing. He served as chairman of the English Department at Trinity College before earning his PhD in English Literature from Harvard University. During his years at Harvard, Robert studied under the American poet, Robert Lowell, and began placing his own poems in magazines. Since then, he has published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including the Atlantic Monthly, Image, the New York Quarterly, Poetry, the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, the Transatlantic Review, and others.
He continued his career teaching at Dartmouth as a professor of English literature while writing The Beasts & The Elders, his first book of poetry. The London Times Literary Supplement praised the "unpretentious versatility of Robert Siegel" and compared the wealth of his poetry with "returning to the mainland after a tour of the islands." While on sabbatical with his family in Cambridge, England, he was inspired to write his first work of fiction, the fantasy novel Alpha Centauri. On a fellowship at Yaddo Artist's Colony his second collection of poems, In a Pig's Eye, began to take shape. Robert continued his teaching and writing at Princeton, Wheaton, Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, the University of London, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he directed the graduate program in creative writing and retired as Professor Emeritus of English.
Robert authored ten books of poetry and fiction throughout his career. His works have garnered numerous awards, honors, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Council for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, Friends of Literature, "Who's Who in America," Chicago Poetry, and the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, among others. He was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his poetry. In a recent interview, he stated "Most of us [writers] share a desire to call up things into words. This is the alchemy that fascinates me. A sensation, impression, or image will step out from its surroundings and demand my total attention. The thing itself will appear to rise up as words and send me fumbling for my notebook or keyboard."
Aside from his poetry, he is best known for his Whalesong trilogy that has been published in seven languages including German, Japanese, and Hebrew. Critics commended this trilogy of novels "... as combining into a powerful manifesto for environmental intervention." Robert believed that human beings must live consciously and harmoniously in the world as part of its whole. He stated "I want people to identify with the mystery and intelligence of the whale, the spirituality of the ocean, as well as have a sense of what it's like to be a marine animal facing oil spills."
Robert had a tremendous love of nature and a keen interest in land preservation. In 1989, his article in the Atlantic Monthly launched a successful nationwide grass roots movement among schoolchildren to preserve and protect Walden Pond, the cherished grounds of writer Henry David Thoreau, from being compromised by a large housing development. He was an avid supporter of maintaining undeveloped land by keeping open space within communities.
After retiring from the University of Wisconsin in 1992, he and his wife, Ann, a photographer, moved to southern Maine where he continued to write, lecture, and travel to participate in poetry readings at colleges and universities throughout the country. In addition, he spent time conducting writer's workshops with students of all ages. His advice to aspiring writers: "Trust the imagination. What is it like to be something else -- a tree, a toad in the grass, a cat, or a camel? And then read, read, read, and write every day. Don't worry about a message -- if you write the best sonnet or story you can, your deepest convictions will come out unconsciously in your work."
The Robert Siegel Collection, comprising of manuscripts, schoolwork, and extensive correspondence, will be housed at Wheaton College Special Collections in Wheaton, Illinois. All material is available to researchers.
When he was not writing, Robert's interests included reading, hiking, cross-country skiing, and traveling. He enjoyed listening to classical music, was a master at telling extemporaneous bedtime stories, and was always game for a round of chess. As reflected in many of his books, he had a great respect for animals and demonstrated kindness for even the smallest of creatures.
A memorial will be held on April 6th, 2013, at Trinity Anglican Church in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Those wishing to do so may make a contribution in Robert's memory to one of the following organizations that he supported significantly throughout his life: the ASPCA, American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspca.org/donate), PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Donor@peta.org), Farm Sanctuary (www.farmsanctuary.org), and Great Works Regional Land Trust (www.gwrlt.org).
Condolences and messages for the family may be expressed by visiting the website of McIntire-McCooey Funeral Home at mcintiremccooey.com