Jarvis A. Thurston, Ph.D., professor emeritus of English and former chair of Washington University’s Department of English in Arts & Sciences, died Feb. 4 of heart disease at his home in University City. He was 93.
Thurston was instrumental in establishing WUSTL’s creative writing program and attracting a constellation of distinguished writers to the University including Stanley Elkin, Ph.D.; Wayne Fields, Ph.D., the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor in English and director of American Culture Studies; Donald Finkel; William Gass, Ph.D., the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and founder of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences; John Morris, Ph.D.; Howard Nemerov, Ph.D., twice-named U.S. poet laureate; and Constance Urdang.
“Jarvis supported, published and sustained many promising young writers and was part of a generation of Western historians and writers that included Bernard DeVoto and Wallace Stegner,” said Fields. “He loved literature and with his wife, Mona Van Duyn, played a key role in expanding the University Libraries’ Modern Literature Collection.”
David Lawton, Ph.D., professor and chair of the English department, called Thurston “one of the most important figures in the history of the English department. His contribution, especially in bringing together critical and creative writing, was transformative,” said Lawton. “Much of our identity today stems from the achievements of Thurston, Mona Van Duyn and the exceptional circle they gathered round them.”
Born in 1914 in Huntsville, Utah, Thurston received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in 1943 and 1946, respectively, from the University of Iowa.
While at Iowa, Thurston met poet Mona Van Duyn. They married in 1943.
Thurston served as assistant professor of English at the University of Louisville from 1946 to 1950. In 1947, Thurston and Van Duyn founded Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature.
When Thurston joined the WUSTL English faculty as assistant professor in 1950, the magazine moved with the couple to St. Louis. Thurston became associate professor in 1955 and full professor in 1962. He served as English department chair from 1966 to 1969, and became professor emeritus in 1982.
Thurston and Van Duyn, an instructor in WUSTL’s English department, produced Perspective, with Thurston as editor, until it ceased publication in 1975.
Thurston was regarded as a key figure in discovering some of the nation’s best literary talent. Perspective published the early writing of several of his WUSTL colleagues, along with works by James Gardner, Anthony Hecht, William S. Merwin and Douglas Woolf.
The co-author of “Short Fiction Criticism, 1800-1958” (1960), Thurston edited two books, “Reading Modern Short Stories” (1955) and “Short Stories from the Literary Magazines” (1972). He also published several literary articles and short stories.
Van Duyn was the nation’s first female poet laureate (1992-1993) and winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. She died in 2004.
Thurston had no immediate survivors. A commemoration will be held March 24 on campus at a location to be determined.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Department of Special Collections, Washington University Libraries, Campus Box 1202.