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Emeritus Professor Park Honan, MA PhD

Members will be sorry to learn of the death, on 27 September 2014, of Emeritus Professor Park Honan, formerly Professor of English and American Literature in the School of English.

Park Honan’s Chair in English and America Literature accurately located a scholar whose roots and interests were divided between the USA and Europe. Born in Utica, New York (as Leonard Hobart Park Honan) he initially studied English Literature and American History at the University of Chicago (MA, 1951), and later obtained a PhD in English Literature from the University of London (1959). He was also awarded an AM ad eundem by Brown University in 1966.

Park moved back to the US as an Assistant Professor at Connecticut College (1960-62) and an Assistant and then Associate Professor at Brown University (1963-68). He returned to Europe as a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and subsequently Reader at the University of Birmingham (1968-63), where his teaching and supervision included twentieth century American poetry and American literature of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as Victorian and Renaissance drama and poetry. His scholarship was recognised by a number of fellowships and residencies in Europe and America, including two Guggenheim Fellowships (1962-63 and 1973-74); and a Folger Shakespeare Library Fellowship (1992).

Park joined the University of Leeds in January 1985 as Professor of English and American Literature, with a varied portfolio of teaching, including both Victorian and twentieth century literature. It was as a biographer, however, that he was primarily known; one of the most outstanding biographers of eminent Victorians (including Robert Browning, Jane Austen and Matthew Arnold), but also the author of acclaimed biographies of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and of an anthology of the Beat poets. Perhaps his most ambitious book, Shakespeare: a Life (1998), was begun whilst he also held his Chair at Leeds, and was considered by many to be the best biography of the iconic playwright.

Park had a formidable reputation as a biographical researcher and a perfectionist. Typically, his books took between 7 and 10 years to complete, working alongside his academic roles, seeking out, checking and double checking a wealth of information. The detail and originality that resulted from this tireless pursuit of knowledge (including new information about both Marlowe and Shakespeare as well as previously unseen sources on Jane Austen and Matthew Arnold) made his books unassailably authoritative. His lifelong love of drama and vivid language also made them a joy to read. His boundless energy was reflected not only in his research, but in his teaching and supervision. He had the gift of being able to inspire others with his enthusiasm, insight and great powers of exposition, and encouraged critical and independent thought in all his students, never shying from academic debate. He was also insatiably curious, frequently working across academic and departmental boundaries to resolve questions that interested him or points of detail that arose during his research. He retained throughout his time at Leeds very strong connections with the US, travelling frequently and widely as a guest and visiting lecturer in the States, and working with colleagues at Leeds (particularly within the Engineering faculty) to promote the University’s scholarship and programmes to American students and to improve opportunities for Americans to study at the University.

Park retired from the University in 1993, but not from writing. He continued to publish for many years, and at the time of his death was part way through producing a biography of T S Eliot.

Park was a colourful and well known figure within the University, who made a significant contribution to scholarship and teaching at Leeds, as well as to the wider field of literary scholarship and biography. He will be remembered with great warmth and respect. The funeral service has taken place.