Professor of English Emerita Joan SteinerDr. Joan Steiner, who passed away on March 26, will be long remembered by the students and colleagues she worked with over more than thirty years. Now, through an extraordinary gift to the Library, Steiner’s dedication to Drew and to her students will be felt by students and researchers yet to come. Steiner’s gift of over one million dollars will go to the Book Endowment Fund and to the purchase of materials related to the university’s African American studies program. “As a long-serving faculty member, Joan Steiner spent a significant portion of her life giving both time and wisdom to Drew and to several generations of its students,” said University President Robert Weisbuch. “It is clear that her final act of generosity will ensure the continuity of her support for a university that meant so much to her.”

REMEMBERING PROFESSOR JOAN STEINER

Dr. Karla Simcikova Kovalova G’2004
Assistant Professor of American Literature, University of Ostrava, Ostrava, Czech Republic

The first time I met Professor Joan E. Steiner, she was sitting in the corridor of the English department, outside Professor Geraldine Smith-Wright’s office. Since she had already been retired by the time I came to Drew, I did not know who she was. But as we began to talk, it became clear to me that whoever she was, she was, above all, a person with a deep love for African American literature. The passion with which she discussed her views of the few books we briefly discussed then left a strong impression on me, and it seemed only natural to ask her, a year later, to consider “stepping out” of her retirement to be a reader for my dissertation on Alice Walker. Her acceptance marked the beginning of our growing friendship, a special gift I will always cherish.

No words can express adequately the depth of my gratitude to Professor Steiner. Over the years, she taught me much more than the rudiments of English language and essay structure. (Being a non-native speaker, my writing certainly provided her with quite a few opportunities to mark in red). She taught me the art of clear, concise prose, devoid of what she called “a verbal diarrhea,” and the importance of “letting go of a paragraph” that may seem “brilliant” but “totally disrupts the flow of the text and simply must go.” Her high standards, invaluable criticism, and brilliant editing were instrumental in my growth as a scholar; her unceasing encouragement and support provided me with a glimpse of what it means to be a teacher who nurtures and sustains.

When I left Drew, we never losttouch with each other. Although separated by the Atlantic Ocean, we remained close through bi-weekly phone conversations and continued to share about our lives and the interests we had in common: namely African American literature, Drew, and politics. Our relationship grew into a strong friendship based on mutual respect and love, the depth of which could not have been affected by any distance. She cared deeply about my professional life, sending me newspaper clippings, articles, and books pertinent to my area of research, providing me support for the publication of my books. She celebrated my engagement, wedding, and giving birth to a daughter as important, life enriching moments of happiness and looked forward to coming to the Czech Republic to meet my new family. Her sudden departure from this world ended our plans, filling my heart with sadness. I miss her terribly.

An exemplary mentor, a great source of inspiration, a remarkable human being, and a wonderful friend, Professor Joan Steiner lived a life that was not part of a Morrison novel but is a story to pass on.

[Karla Simcikova worked in the Library Reference Department during her years as a graduate student at Drew]

originally published in Visions, Spring 2011