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William W. Cook


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lebanon, N.H. — William W. Cook died on Monday, May 15, 2017, at the Genesis Center in Lebanon. He was the Israel Evans Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres Emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he had also served as chair of the Departments of English and of African and African American Studies. He was born the son of Rev. Cleve Cook and Frances Cook in Trenton, N.J. on Aug. 4, 1933. Prof. Cook was an outstanding student in the New Jersey public schools, graduating at the head of his high school class in Trenton and as the Valedictorian of his class at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), where he majored in English. He went on to teach English and Drama in the public high school of Princeton, N.J., where he soon built a reputation for being one of the most outstanding teachers not only in the state of New Jersey, but in nation-wide surveys, where he was recognized as one of the most effective educators of his generation.

Prof. Cook served as President and national Chair of such professional organizations as the National Council of Teachers of English and the “Four C’s,” the Conference on College Communication and Composition, the world’s largest professional organization for researching and teaching composition, from writing to new media. He was in the first cohort of nationally prominent educators who were selected by Senator Dale Bumpers to lead the first years of the Mississippi Delta Teaching Project, a program that aimed to help teachers and students struggling for an education in some of the poorest parts of the country. At Dartmouth, Cook was widely recognized as one of the finest teachers in an institution well known for its dedication to teaching. In addition to chairing his department and program, Prof. Cook served on all of the important governing councils and committees at the College, including the Committee Advisory to the President, during the Presidencies of John Kemeny, David McLaughlin, James Friedman and James Wright. He was one of the founders and leaders of the National Black Theater Conference and supervised its organizational meetings at Dartmouth.

Prof. Cook not only taught both general students and beginning, young poets and writers supremely well, he was also an accomplished poet in his own right, publishing frequently in poetry magazines and gathering his collected verse in Hudson Hornet: Collected Poems (1989) and Spiritual: Selected Poems (1999). Together with his friend and colleague the classicist James Tatum Bill Cook directed many productions of Tatum’s translations of the Roman comic poet Plautus. They also created a performance piece, “Black Talk, Black Tunes” in which they performed African American poetry and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin and his colleagues, a performance that later was offered as “The Aim Was Song,” to underscore the qualities in poetry that link it so closely to the sounds of music. Over a period of more than twenty years they also collaborated in a course on African American poets and writers and the poets of ancient Greece and Rome, a collaboration which culminated in their 2010 book African American Writers and Classical Tradition, published by the University of Chicago Press, which won the American Book Award for 2011.

Bill Cook was widely known for his wit and his talents as an illustrator and artist. Family, friends and colleagues soon learned to look forward to his yearly confections of joke greeting cards that would send up any and every kind of pretentious nonsense that attracted his satiric eye and clever pen.

He is survived by many nieces and nephews in and around Trenton, above all his beloved sister Louise’s son, Leonard Watkins and Leonard’s wife, Vera.

Funeral services and burial will be held in Trenton this Saturday, May 20.

To view an online memorial and or send a message of condolence to the family, please visit www.rand-wilson.com

Local arrangements are under the direction of the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home of Hanover, NH.