Obituary: Carter Revard, of Arts & Sciences, 90

Acclaimed poet, medieval scholar spanned Western, Native American traditions

Revard (Photo: Washington University Archives)

Carter Revard, professor emeritus of English in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Jan. 3, 2022, at his home in University City, Mo. He was 90.

Born in Pawhuska, Okla., in 1931, Revard was raised, along with six siblings and numerous cousins, aunts and uncles, in the Buck Creek Valley on the Osage reservation — a great, extended “mixed-blood family of Indian and Irish and Scotch-Irish folks,” as he described it in his 2001 autobiography, “Winning the Dustbowl.”

Revard attended the one-room Buck Creek School while working a series of odd jobs, from harvesting fields to training greyhounds. After graduating from nearby Bartlesville College High School, he won a radio quiz scholarship to study at the University of Tulsa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952. That same year, Revard also won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Merton College at the University of Oxford, and he received his Osage name, Nom-peh-wah-theh (“fear inspiring”), from his grandmother, Josephine Jump.

Revard in his office in 1966. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

In 1956, Revard met and married Stella Hill Purce Revard, a Milton scholar, while both were pursuing their doctorates at Yale. In 1961, after teaching for two years at Amherst College, he joined the Washington University faculty as an assistant professor of English, rising to associate professor in 1966 and full professor in 1977.

Known for his groundbreaking scholarship on the Harley manuscript, a 14th-century collection of secular and religious lyrics now housed in the British Library, Revard also was an accomplished poet whose work frequently explored Native American themes, beginning with the chapbook “My Right Hand Don’t Leave Me No More” (1970). In class, his syllabi could seamlessly range from Boccaccio and Chaucer to Native American myths and contemporary novelists such as Louise Erdrich.

A regular presenter at St. Louis’ famed Duff’s Poetry Series, Revard’s numerous books include the poetry collections “Ponca War Dancers” (1980), “Cowboys and Indians, Christmas Shopping” (1992), “An Eagle Nation” (1993), “How the Songs Come Down: New and Selected Poems” (2005) and “From the Extinct Volcano, A Bird of Paradise” (2014), as well as an earlier autobiography, “Family Matters, Tribal Affairs” (1998).

Revard was named professor emeritus in 1997 but remained a regular presence on the WashU campus — teaching courses, visiting classes and reading from his latest works. In 2003, the journal Studies in American Indian Literatures dedicated a special issue to his writing and intellectual legacy.

Revard reads Native American poems during a class visit in 2006. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

“Retirement has hardly slowed Carter Revard’s pace,” wrote guest editor Ellen L. Arnold, “and his work as a poet and a scholar just keeps on expanding, developing and becoming more complex.”

Other major honors include the Oklahoma Book Award (1994); a Writer of the Year Award (2000) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2005) from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers; and an American Indian Festival of Words Author Award (2007).

A former secretary and president of the American Indian Center of Mid-America, Revard was a member of the Modern Language Association, the River Styx Literary Organization and the St. Louis Gourd Dancers, among other groups.

Revard was preceded in death by his wife in 2014. He is survived by his children, Stephen Revard, Geoffrey Revard, Vanessa Roman and Lawrence Revard; brothers Louis “Jim” Jump and Addison Jump Jr.; and sister, Josephine.

A memorial service is planned for summer 2022, as long as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic allows.

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