Sad News: Steven Gendzier

Jan. 19, 2018

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you the sad news of the death of Steve Gendzier, a longtime member of our Romance and Comparative Literature Department (as it was then called).  Steve was a mainstay of our French program for four decades, until his retirement in 2001.

Steve grew up on Rochambeau Avenue, not in France as the name might suggest, but in the Bronx.  He made the journey from the Bronx to upper Manhattan by way of both Ohio and Paris, earning his BA at Oberlin College and a Certificate from the University of Paris, before going on to his master’s and doctorate at Columbia University.  He began his teaching career at MIT, and joined the Brandeis faculty in 1962, earning tenure four years later.

Steve’s research specialization was the French 18th century, with a particular focus on the philosopher Denis Diderot.  But his teaching ranged widely over French and comparative literature, encompassing such courses as “Sex and Sensibility in Pre-Revolution European Novels” and “Dada and Surrealism.”  One of his favorite courses was a class on French culture in which he allowed students to prepare a meal as a final project – a meal accompanied (like any truly great French meal) by a complete explanation of its cultural context and significance.

Students often raved about his teaching.  One student said: “he has extraordinary enthusiasm for the subject and an ability to make a 1.5 hour class fly by…."  Another remarked that he “stimulated interest for the material even when I thought I’d hate the class…,” while another noted how he had “enormous respect for student ideas and opinions…” One might even say that if Michelin rated classes, Steve would surely have earned a star.  

Steve was chair of the Department of Romance and Comparative Literature twice, as well as heading the French area of the department several times.  His devotion to Brandeis was evident not only in the numerous committees on which he served, but also in his many efforts to enhance the scholarly, educational, and social dimensions of the university.  Steve initiated and organized both a popular Faculty Humanities seminar and many faculty tennis matches, and he was the University’s resident expert in wine.  He was also active in the Transition Year Program program, welcoming the opportunity to play a role in the lives of such deserving students.  In addition, he took special pride in helping to establish an exchange program between Brandeis and the renowned École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  This relationship with the ENS took on an added, special meaning for Steve, when one of his sons ended up marrying a normalienne who had participated in this program.

A memorial service for Steve will be held on campus on January 27 at 1:30 pm in Berlin Chapel, followed by a reception at the Faculty Club.

I know I join with all of you in extending our deepest sympathies to Steve’s family.  He will be greatly missed.


Lisa Lynch
(Special thanks to Michael Randall and Rick Silberman for the drafting of this note)