Louise Rosenblatt, Pioneer in Reading Theory and the Teaching of Literature, 100


Retired New York University Professor Louise Rosenblatt, who developed a revolutionary approach to reading and the teaching of literature with the 1938 publication of Literature as Exploration (Appleton-Century; Modern Language Association, 1995, 5th ed.), died Feb. 8 at the age of 100 in the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va.

The University of Chicago’s Wayne Booth, writing the foreword to the 5th edition of Literature as Exploration, noted, “I doubt that any other literary critic of this century has enjoyed and suffered as sharp a contrast of powerful influence and absurd neglect as Louise Rosenblatt…She has probably influenced more teachers in their ways of dealing with literature than any other critic.”

Rosenblatt’s final book, Making Meaning with Texts: Selected Essays, was published by Heinemann on Feb. 1. She also authored The Reader the Text the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (Southern Illinois University, 1978, 1994) and had numerous articles and co-authored publications.

Rosenblatt was a professor of English education at NYU’s School of Education (now Steinhardt School of Education). Prior to her arrival at NYU in 1948, Rosenblatt was an assistant professor at Brooklyn College (1938-1948) and an instructor at Barnard College (1927-1938). At NYU, where she earned the university’s “Great Teacher Award” in 1972, she headed the doctoral program in English Education until her retirement from the university in 1972.

After her retirement from NYU, Rosenblatt was a visiting professor at Rutgers University and the University of Miami. She was also a member of faculty institutes in English at Northwestern University, Michigan State University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Alabama, the University of Alberta, Auburn University, and the University of Massachusetts.

Rosenblatt received numerous awards from organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), including its Distinguished Service Award (1972), the David Russell Award for Distinguished Research (1980), and the James R. Squire Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Teaching and Learning in the English Language Arts (2002). She was elected to the International Reading Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and received the John Dewey Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

During her years at Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1925, Rosenblatt developed friendships with anthropologist Margaret Mead and poet Léonie Adams, part of a group known informally as “The Ash Can Cats.” Mead chronicles the friendship in her memoir, Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (William Morrow & Co., 1972).

Rosenblatt was married to Sidney Ratner, an economic historian at Rutgers University. The two were married for 63 years at the time of Ratner’s death in 1996. During World War II, Ratner was an economist for the U.S. State Department’s Board of Economic Warfare and the Foreign Economic Administration, the New York Times reported in a 1996 obituary. During World War II, Rosenblatt worked for a U.S. intelligence agency, the Office of War Information, analyzing information from Nazi-occupied France.

Rosenblatt began as a literary historian and literary critic, publishing at age 27 a book in French on the “Art for Art’s Sake” movement in England. While teaching literature to college students, she developed an approach that broke with the dominant academic model (the New Criticism), which elevated “the text,” declaring it accessible only to those trained in unlocking its code. By contrast, Rosenblatt stressed that every act of 500

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