English MATTERS — SPRING 2012

In Memoriam

Joanne Altieri

picture of Joanne Altieri

Professor Joanne Altieri, born in 1940, died this past summer on July 18. She grew up in Upton, MA, received her B.A. from Boston University and her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and came to the Department of English in 1977. Here she taught courses in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature, published studies of Shakespeare, Jacobean drama, and poetry, and served on the board and as acting editor of Modern Language Quarterly. She was married to Professor Charles Altieri from 1966 to 1990 and leaves behind their daughter Laura and son Phil. After she became ill from multiple sclerosis, she carried on her life with spirit and determination. She learned to drive, at age 50, with the help of her colleague Nikolai Popov, had hand controls installed in the car when she could not control the pedals, negotiated the campus in an electric wheelchair, and when the disease made teaching on campus impossible, taught students through University Extension.

When Joanne was confined to a bed in her apartment on Queen Anne Hill, she was well attended by her devoted caregiver and her daughter, who visited regularly from California, her canary Romeo, and her cat (enemy of Romeo) and a neighbor’s large Golden Retriever, both of whom liked to join her on the bed. She avidly followed the financial news and had plenty of opinions about it, listened to KING-FM, and read novels with visitors (Austen and Tolstoy were favorites, Flannery O’Connor was banished). She remained attached to colleagues from the English Department, who visited her at convivial, noisy annual parties organized by Mona Modiano. Heather McHugh was always there, and she sent these words about Joanne:

“Joanne Altieri was a discerning scholar of Elizabethan literature, an appreciator of fine wine and music, deployer of a biting wit and indulger of a ferocious appetite for competitive stock-market analysis and investment—even during her last and bed-bound decade. Her daughter Laura and her caregiver Barbara saw from day to day with what determination she faced the onset of multiple sclerosis and a decline so lengthy that the toughest men might well have sought release. Joanne steered on with a feistiness her old friends could mightily admire, but never hope to match. We met around her bedside annually to toast her, and I raise a jeroboam now, in honor and in remembrance.”

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