Deborah Tall, professor of English and Comparative Literature, died on October 19 at age 55 after two years of resisting inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, aggressive form of the disease. She had lived in Ithaca, N.Y., since 1990 with her husband of 27 years, David Weiss, and their daughters, Zoe and Clea Weiss.
Since 1982, Tall taught at Hobart and William Smith where she was named The John Milton Potter Professor of Humanities and won the 2001 Faculty Scholarship Award, as well as numerous faculty research grants. She was editor of the literary journal Seneca Review.
“Deborah was deeply admired throughout our community and far beyond,” said President Mark D. Gearan. “She inspired us with her original talent as a writer and her dedication to literature, teaching, her family and her friends. Those close to her will be able to share their memories in a public celebration of her life to be held on campus this fall.”
Both a poet and nonfiction writer, she was published widely and gave readings and talks around the world. Her books include Summons, which was selected by Charles Simic for the Katherine A. Morton Poetry Prize in 1999; The Island of the White Cow; From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place; and The Poet’s Notebook, which she co-edited with Hobart alumnus Stephen Kuusisto and Hobart and William Smith Professor of English David Weiss. A memoir, A Family of Strangers, has just come out this fall from Sarabande Books.
Born in Washington, D.C., she grew up in the Philadelphia area and spent five formative years on Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland. She earned a B.S. in English from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College.
In addition to her husband and children, she is survived by her sister, Naomi (and Dana) Groover, father-in-law Murray (and Mimi Selig) Weiss, an aunt, Eleanor Donnerstein, an uncle, Kenneth (and Judith Jaeger) Salzman, cousins, extended family, wonderful colleagues, and many deeply cherished friends.
The family expresses its gratitude to all the devoted doctors and care-givers who labored to save her life and gave her such comfort and encouragement, and to the many others who offered a huge amount of support and help.
Burial will be private, and a formal memorial service will take place at Hobart and William Smith Colleges at a date to be announced.
Those wishing to make donations in her honor are encouraged to support the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Fund, 321 High School Road NE, #149, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, or their local Hospicare organization.