Minter, former English Dept. chair, dies at 82

David Minter, a former English Department chair, interim vice provost and university librarian, interim provost and longtime English professor, died Aug. 21. He was 82.

David Minter

David Minter

One of the foremost scholars of 20th-century American literature and of author William Faulkner, Minter taught at Rice for 24 years before retiring in 2002 as the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor Emeritus of English.

“We have lost a university citizen of the first order,” said Caroline Levander, vice president for strategic initiatives and digital education and the Carlson Professor in the Humanities. “A major luminary in American literary studies, a spirited and passionate teacher, a gifted academic leader and a deeply ethical, selfless community member, David Minter set a sterling example of intellectual generosity and public-mindedness for generations of students and colleagues. He will be long-remembered for his visionary academic leadership, generosity of spirit, charismatic mentoring and inspiring commitment to helping others through the life of the mind.”

Levander ’95, also a professor of English, said Minter convinced her to come to Rice for a Ph.D., and he served as her adviser. She led his retirement fundraising events that created the David and Caroline Minter Endowment for Rice’s Department of English. It was the first endowment at Rice that supports undergraduate excellence in the English major and funds student prizes, research projects and the development of new courses.

Minter came to Rice from Yale University in 1967 as an assistant professor of English. He was appointed associate professor in 1969, full professor in 1974 and served as chair of the English Department from 1978 to 1980. He was speaker of the Faculty Council from 1977 to 1978. Minter left Rice in 1980 to become dean of Emory College at Emory University, where he was later appointed vice president for arts and sciences. He returned to Rice in 1990 as the Libbie Shearn Moody Professor of English, served as interim vice provost and university librarian during the 1995-96 academic year and as interim provost during 1999-2000. In 1999 he was named the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English, a chair endowed by one of his former students, Bruce Dunlevie ’79, who is now a Rice trustee emeritus.

When Minter was named interim provost, Rice President Malcolm Gillis said, “David Minter is known far and wide as a leading literary scholar. On the Rice campus he is widely recognized as a truly outstanding teacher and mentor.” Gillis said Minter’s record of service to Rice was “one of the most distinguished and fruitful in the university’s history.”

In addition to holding faculty and administrative positions, Minter and his wife, Caroline, served as college masters twice, first at Baker and then at Jones. Minter also chaired the Committee of Masters and served as a faculty associate of Wiess College.

cover of "William Faulkner: His Life and Work" by David MinterMinter authored books, essays and reviews, and his work was translated into several languages. “Writing is the most intensive work I have ever done,” he told Rice News in 2002. “At different moments it’s exhilarating and hard work. I do it because I think I don’t ever feel more alive.” Minter wrote his most successful book, “William Faulkner: His Life and Work,” while living near Cambridge, England. Among his other books are “The Interpreted Design as a Structural Principle in American Prose” and “A Cultural History of the American Novel: Henry James to William Faulkner.”

Minter won Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching three times and the Student Association Mentor Recognition Award. He was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, a Fulbright Travel Fellowship and a number of other fellowships and honors, including the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of North Texas State University, where he earned his B.A. and M.A. He also had a B.D. and a Ph.D. from Yale.

Minter, a native of Midland, Texas, grew up in Gonzales and Woodville, Texas. Graveside services were held Aug. 22 at Magnolia Cemetery in Woodville. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Rice Chapel.

Minter is survived by his wife of 60 years, Caroline Minter of Houston; a son, Chris Minter of Dripping Springs, Texas; a daughter, Frances Epstein, and her husband, Jeff, of Tucson, Ariz.; and two grandchildren.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.