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In Memoriam: Longtime U.Va. Editor and Faculty Member Charlotte Kohler Dies

Sept. 19, 2008 – Charlotte Kohler, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review for 33 years and a former University of Virginia faculty member, died Sept. 15 on the eve of her 100th birthday.

Born Sept. 16, 1908 in Richmond, Va., Kohler was the sixth and longest-tenured editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, serving from 1946 until 1975, after having been the literary journal's managing editor from 1942–1946.

A 1929 graduate of Vassar College, Kohler studied under Virginia Quarterly Review founder James Southall Wilson at U.Va., becoming one of its first female recipients of a Ph.D. in 1936. Kohler completed her master's degree in 1933 in only nine months and was U.Va.'s first female Phi Beta Kappa in 1936.

More than her predecessors, Kohler fulfilled U.Va. President Edwin Alderman's broad vision for the VQR. As she said in 1962 in the Richmond Times Dispatch, "The Quarterly hopes to be intelligently entertaining on all sorts of subjects, old and new, and yet retain more than a modicum of old-fashioned courtesy and good taste."

Kohler believed that the VQR should attract writers because of its "reputation for attracting readers who are careful thinkers." She looked forward to the daily flood of submissions. "Every mail is like Christmas."

Theodore "Ted" Genoways, the journal's current editor, paid lavish tribute to his predecessor.

"Charlotte Kohler deserves to be remembered as one of the most important journal editors not only of her own time, but of the entire 20th century," he said.

"She brought the titans of literature to the pages of VQR — writers like Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Eudora Welty — but, more importantly, she had an uncanny eye for major new talent. She was the first American editor to take a chance on Nadine Gordimer (who went on to receive the Nobel Prize), the first to publish Adrienne Rich and Hayden Carruth, both of whom went on to win National Book Awards, and an early supporter of George Garrett, Reynolds Price, and Wallace Stegner.

"She was also an incredibly courageous editor. In 1945, she featured drawings by Diego Rivera when he was seen by many in the United States as too pro-Communist, but in 1958 published Ezra Pound at a time when he had only narrowly escaped hanging for treason for his pro-Fascist leanings.

"For more than three decades, she was one of the best — maybe even the best."

Kohler's last issue as editor was the journal's 50th anniversary issue. By then, Kohler had read at least 90,000 manuscripts, won a National Endowment for the Arts award, published a collection of poems from the Quarterly, presided over the its Balch Awards for poetry, and received an honorary doctorate from Smith College in 1971.

Kohler's colleagues and peers were effusive on the subject of her editorial skills. When the late Staige Blackford was named Kohler's successor, he said in an interview, "Following Charlotte was like following Queen Victoria to the throne."

After leaving the journal, she stayed on at the University as an associate professor of English, passing on to countless students her enthusiasm for literature until she retired as professor emeritus in 1979.

Kohler was the daughter of the late Edwin Charles and Augusta Bromm Kohler. She was educated in the Richmond, Va. public schools.

After receiving her Ph.D., she taught for six years at Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, now U.N.C. at Greensboro.

In 1942, she returned to Charlottesville, where she spent the rest of her life. She was a member of the Raven Society (University of Virginia), ODK and Phi Beta Kappa.

She is survived by several cousins and by a goddaughter, Lindsey Truitt; Truitt's sisters, Sally Truitt and Kendall Barrett; and their mother, Susanne Page.

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Note: A two-part profile of Charlotte Kohler and high-resolution archival images of her may be found online at http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=3604 and
http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=3752.

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