Susan Stanford Friedman

Position title: IRH Director (2007-2017)


Hilldale Professor in the Humanities and the Virginia Woolf Professor of English and Women's Studies Emerita, UW-Madison

portrait image of Susan Friedman seated at an event table laughing with her hand at her chin. She wears a brightly colored shirt and large earrings and has her glasses pushed up on her head.

Susan Stanford Friedman, director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities from 2007-2017, an IRH senior fellow (1994-1999), and an IRH resident fellow (1986) died February 26th at her home in Madison at age 79. As the IRH Director, she developed four Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity Fellowships, oversaw the growth of the Institute’s fellow program from around 25 to over 50 fellows a year, and worked closely with the Center for the Humanities as an advocate for the humanities across the campus. She was a co-founder of the Women’s Studies Program in 1975 and served as the program’s associate chair (1975-1981, laying the foundation for the certificate, major, and master’s degrees. From 2001-2004, she chaired the English Department, and she continues as an affiliate faculty member emerita in the Middle East Studies Program and the Religious Studies Program.

Professor Friedman was a trailblazing scholar, a leader recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking research, and a dedicated teacher and adviser to generations of UW undergraduate and graduate students. Professor Friedman’s contributions as a mentor and friend were felt by the great many people with whom she shared the gift of her brilliance, wisdom, humor and unfailing support. She received her B.A. degree with a joint major in Greek and English at Swarthmore College in 1965 and her Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1973. After teaching at Brooklyn College, she returned to Madison in 1975. As a committed teacher, she has received five teaching awards, directed 28 dissertations, served as a reader on 92 dissertation committees, and participated on 10 MFA committees in Art.

“Susan was a kindred spirit who shaped my career as a Germanist, Comparativist and World Literature scholar, as we collaborated on the World Literatures Research Workshop (2007-16), multiple conferences, dissertation committees, and more,” said Professor B. Venkat Mani, Professor of German and World Literatures at UW-Madison. “She was the first reader of both my books and multiple essays, and we had the trust to exchange work and help each other sharpen our arguments. She taught me to fight for my values: she understood the position of a person of color through her own long struggles as a feminist.”

The former chair of the Department of English, past director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities, one of the founding members of the UW-Madison Women’s Studies Program in 1975, and the author of four books and over eighty articles and book chapters, Professor Friedman was a towering figure in the fields of literary studies, gender studies, modernism, cultural theory, migration/diaspora studies, world literatures, and postcolonial studies.

“Professor Friedman built a legacy as a terrific scholar and director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities. While most will remember her for her outstanding scholarship and academic leadership, I will also remember her for something more personal,” said Provost John Karl Scholz. “In my first days as a new dean for the College of Letters & Science her openness and kindness helped me learn and grow into my job. I will always be grateful for this.”

Professor Friedman’s influence on the fields of literary studies and gender studies was enormous, her contributions honored over the course of her career with named Professorships, the Perkins Prize for Best Book in Narrative Studies, the Wayne C. Booth Award for Lifetime Achievement in Narrative Studies, and numerous teaching awards. Known for recasting modernity as a networked, circulating, and recurrent phenomenon, she radically revised the scope of modernist critique and opened the practice to more integrated and interdisciplinary study. Professor Friedman brought the Twentieth Century poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) back into critical conversation within the modernist literary landscape and in her groundbreaking work on feminist theory proposed a thoroughly multiculturalist and geopolitical definition of feminism.

Over the course of her career she lectured around the world, and her work has been translated into Chinese, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. Professor Friedman’s more recent work turned towards Oceania and the islands and archipelagos of the Pacific, bringing into sharp focus the ecologically inflected planetarity and politics of women poets as she uncovered both the human and non-human dimensions of modernity across scales large and small, distant and proximate.

Her monograph Sisters of Scheherazade: Religion, Diaspora, and Contemporary Muslim Women’s Writing, to be published posthumously by Columbia UP and edited by B. Venkat Mani and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Dean of Humanities and Professor of English at Rutgers University, explores the spectrum of Muslim feminisms, examines the impact of migration and diaspora on gender and Muslim identity, and uses intersectional analysis to see how religion interacts with identity categories like gender, race, class, sexuality, and national origin.

The University of Wisconsin mourns the loss of a beloved colleague, mentor, and friend and sends our heartfelt condolences to her family.

cover of book "Contemporary revolutions..." with black out marker on top of text that has been redacted.Image of cover of book "Planetary Modernisms..." with diagonal white lines separating triangular blocks of color

Image of cover of book "Comparison..." with image of a blue and black composite image of paint and textCover of Book "Mappings: Feminism and Cultural Geographies of Encounter" in black, red, and dark mauveimage of book cover for "Penelope's Web" showing a blue-toned image of Giovanni Boccaccio illustration of a woman weaving