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Joel Porte, leading authority on the works of Emerson, dies at 72

Joel Porte, the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters Emeritus at Cornell, died June 1. He was 72.

An internationally renowned scholar of American literature and an Emerson specialist, Porte was the author of 12 books. Earlier this year, he received the national Emerson Society's Distinguished Achievement Award, its highest honor. A prolific essayist and lecturer, Porte also wrote on topics ranging from the Puritans to 19-century America; the philosophy of George Santayana; and the poetry of Wallace Stevens.

Porte joined the Cornell faculty in 1987, coming from Harvard University where he was the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and chair of the Department of English. He was appointed the Frederick J. Whiton Professor of American Literature at Cornell in 1989 and retired in 2004 as the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters Emeritus.

Porte was born in Brooklyn in 1933; he received an A.B. in English and classics from City College of New York in 1957 and his Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard in 1962, when he also was awarded the coveted Bowdoin Prize for his essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1969, at the age of 36, Porte became one of the youngest people in the history of the Harvard English department to be promoted to full professor. He also was appointed a Rockefeller Scholar in Residence in Bellagio, Italy, (1979) and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow (1981-82).

Among his 12 books, the most highly regarded include a literary biography of Emerson, "Representative Man" (1979; revised 1988); "In Respect to Egotism: Studies in American Romantic Writing" (1991); and "Consciousness and Culture: Emerson and Thoreau Reviewed" (2004). His edited volume "Emerson's Prose and Poetry: A Norton Critical Edition" (2001) was adopted in 2002 by the French Ministry of Education as a required text for the Agr├ęgation, a national competitive exam for aspiring college teachers. The Norton Emerson and his other edited volumes are used as textbooks at many colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.

Porte is survived by his wife, Helene Sophrin Porte, and a daughter.

A memorial service will be held at Cornell in September. Donations can be sent to Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County, 172 East King Road, Ithaca.

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Nicola Pytell