Russell A. Fraser, Austin Warren Professor Emeritus of English, died March 10 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 86.

Fraser, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., earned a Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth (1947) and a Ph.D. from Harvard (1950). He was fired from his first academic position, at UCLA, for refusing to sign a loyalty oath. After working for the U.S. Information Service he resumed his academic career as an assistant professor at Duke and then Princeton, where he earned tenure and became associate dean of the Graduate School before moving to Vanderbilt to chair the English Department.


In 1967 he came to Michigan as professor of English and chair of the English Department (1968-73), the first outsider to hold the position. As chair, Fraser reoriented the department by reducing teaching loads, emphasizing research productivity, and transforming salary and promotion procedures. He was a gifted and popular teacher who created an innovative course using Shakespeare to teach introductory composition. Fraser founded the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium, precursor of the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, serving as its first director.

Fraser was a major critic of English Renaissance and other literature who published 20 books and numerous essays, many in prominent literary periodicals. His lifelong passion for Shakespeare was reflected in his teaching and in editions of some of the plays, a book on “Shakespeare’s Poetics,” and a two-volume study of Shakespeare’s life and art in the context of his times. A series of books exploring literature in relation to intellectual and cultural history, including “The Dark Ages and Age of Gold” and “The Three Romes,” established him as an ambitious and incisive critic with a singular style. Fraser extended his intellectual range in a biography of the critic R.P. Blackmur (“A Mingled Yarn”) and books interpreting what he regarded as the best of English poetry from 1500 to the present (“Singing Masters”) and also personal favorites among modernist writers, European and American as well as English (“Moderns Worth Keeping”). 

After retiring from the university in 1995 Fraser kept up the pace of his publications, with books including two collections of essays that blend travel narrative with memoir and reflections on the culture and history of the places he visited, “From China to Peru” (2009) and “Sojourner in Islamic Lands” (2013).

In 1977 Fraser was recognized with a Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a Senior Fulbright-Hays Scholar and a Rockefeller Resident Scholar at Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio. He held visiting professorships at Columbia and the University of Hawaii.

Near the end of his teaching career at Michigan Fraser began to spend time in Hawaii, and he eventually moved to Honolulu. He is survived by his wife of 33 years Mary Zwiep and two children from his first marriage to Eleanor Phillips (Karen of Venice, Fla., and Alexander of Chicago), three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A memorial service will be held in Honolulu on April 27.

— Submitted by Jane Johnson, English Language & Literature