Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 58, prominent writer, dies of cancer

Apr 13, 2009 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Death, Photography

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the prominent queer theorist and writer, has passed away from cancer.  An announcement from the CUNY Graduate Center will be forthcoming, but it is unclear whether she passed away Sunday, April 12, or this morning, April 13.   She was 58, and her birthday would have been on May 2nd.  Sedgwick was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991.

In 2007 I was asked to photograph Sedgwick by Wikipedia editor Zigzig20s.  When I met Sedgwick at her home in Chelsea, she was extraordinarily kind, soft-spoken and enthusiastic about participating in Wikipedia via my portrait.  She was a gracious host.  I spent an hour talking to her about her life, and she asked a lot about mine.

I took perhaps 30 portait shots of Sedgwick, but the one below I felt best captured her essence.  She was concerned that photographs of her tended to be in the extremes: a deathly serious face, or she was uproariously laughing.  She wanted something to capture several aspects of her spirit, and the smirk grin* you see below I think did it.

(As with all of my photography, this image is licensed Creative Commons and may be reproduced with attribution)

File:Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick by David Shankbone.jpg

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who died of breast cancer in 2009

Words about Sedgwick from around the web:

“She was totally my sophomore year of college academic idol, and I know that gender geeks everywhere will be so sad to hear this news.” – Belowthebelt.

“Condolences to those who knew her and are grieving, and to all of those who have been touched, challenged and expanded by her work.” – Susan Stinson

“Without her, there would be no Queer Studies.” – Helen Boyd

“Significant to me because she was a scholar I kept hearing about when I started to learn about feminism and queer theory…” – Thomas Richardson

“Reading through those genre-bending essays convinced me that there was almost nothing that Sedgwick could not make me see anew.” – Jeffrey Cohen

*Roxie Smith Lindemann at Roxie’s World pointed out my inaccurate use of the word “smirk” to describe the smile in Eve’s photo, and it was a good point, so I changed it to “grin”.

From Wikipedia:

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (May 2, 1950 – April 12, 2009) was an American theorist in the fields of gender studies, queer theory (queer studies), and critical theory. Influenced by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, feminism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction, her work reflects an abiding interest in a wide range of issues and topics, including queer performativity and performance; experimental critical writing; the works of Marcel Proust; non-Lacanian psychoanalysis; artists’ books; Buddhism and pedagogy; the affective theories of Silvan Tomkins and Melanie Klein; and material culture, especially textiles and texture.

3 Comments + Add Comment

  • David–

    I have long loved this photo of Eve–I think it’s the “Eve-iest” of any picture I’ve seen of her. Thank you for it, and for your memories of her.

    • I really appreciate the feedback, Sasha. I can’t speak highly enough of her in the small amount of time I got to know her. It helps me to talk to people for a bit before I photograph them so that I can figure out how to capture them, so it means a lot for me to hear you say that I was successful in this instance. That photo’s copyright belongs to you as much as it does to me, now. What I get to keep is the beautiful memory of the experience.

  • Hi, I love this photo, too. I agree with Sasha. Thanks so much for it.

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