Helen Hennessy Vendler (born April 30, 1933)[1] is an American literary critic and is the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.[2][3][4]

Life and career

Vendler has written books on Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, John Keats, and Seamus Heaney. She has been a professor of English at Harvard University since 1984; between 1981 and 1984 she taught alternating semesters at Harvard and Boston University.[5] In 1990 she was appointed to an endowed chair as the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor. She is the first woman to hold this position. She has also taught at Cornell University, Swarthmore and Smith College, and Boston University. She married (then later divorced) the philosopher Zeno Vendler with whom she had one son. In 1992 Vendler received a Litt. D. from Bates College.[6]

Vendler did not major in English as an undergraduate. She earned an A.B. in chemistry at Emmanuel College. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for mathematics, before earning her Ph.D. in English & American Literature from Harvard.[7] She has also been a judge for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award, in poetry.

In 2004, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Vendler for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[8][9] Vendler's lecture, entitled "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar,"[10] used a number of poems by Wallace Stevens[11] to argue for the role of the arts (as opposed to history and philosophy) in the study of humanities.[12]

She is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.[13]



  1. ^ date & year of birth, full name according to LCNAF CIP data
  2. ^ Rachel Donadio, "The Closest Reader," New York Times, December 10, 2006. ("She is also the leading poetry critic in America, the author of major books on Wallace Stevens, Keats and Shakespeare, and for a generation has been a powerful arbiter of the contemporary poetry scene.")
  3. ^ Nicholas A. Basbanes, Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World, HarperCollins, New York, 2005, pp. 238–46.
  4. ^ Stein, Lorin (December 2010). "New Books: Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries". Harper's. Harper's Magazine Foundation. 321 (1,927): 75. Retrieved 2011-01-22. Helen Vendler is... the reigning doyenne of American poetry criticism 
  5. ^ Joel A. Getz, "Vendler Accepts English Dept. Appointment," Harvard Crimson, December 10, 1984.
  6. ^ List of Bates College Honorands Archived 2015-01-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Helen Vendler's CV
  8. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  9. ^ Joshua D. Gottlieb, "Vendler Tapped for National Lecture," Harvard Crimson, March 12, 2004.
  10. ^ Helen Vendler, "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar", text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  11. ^ See for example her remarks about Stevens's Harmonium and its various poems, such as Le Monocle de Mon Oncle and Bantam in Pine Woods
  12. ^ Sam Teller, "Vendler Advocates Larger Role for Arts in Academia," Harvard Crimson, March 15, 2005.
  13. ^ "Gruppe 4: Litteraturvitenskap" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 10 January 2011. 

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