Eric Charles White, a longtime member of the English Department faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder, died in August.
White was an author, professor, mentor and friend to many, students and colleagues said.
White taught literary theory, literature and science, film studies, British and Irish modernism and popular culture studies. His favorite courses were his upper-division “Literature of the Fantastic: Imagination and Metamorphosis” and his graduate seminar “Phantasmagoria and the Psychic Life of the City.”
White received his BA in English from Columbia University and his master’s in English from Clare College, Cambridge. As a PhD candidate in Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, he studied poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theory and British, French and German modernism as well as rhetoric.
While working on his dissertation, he moved to Beijing for a year to study Mandarin and teach English literature at Beihang University. After completing his PhD he began teaching for the CU English Department in 1984. He accepted a job as an associate professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1990, but later returned to CU Boulder and finished his career there.
In 1987 White published Kaironomia: On the Will-to-Invent (Cornell University Press). Other publications include articles on narrative theory, surrealism, film, science fiction, chaos theory, evolutionary biology and fantastic literature. His fellowships included a faculty fellowship at the Cornell University Society for the Humanities and a National Endowment for the Humanities summer fellowship at the Harvard Summer Institute for the Study of Avant-gardes.
At CU Boulder, White served as director of graduate studies and associate chair of the English Department, and later as chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Humanities.
White’s longtime colleague and friend Professor John Stevenson described White as a man who was always willing to help students and never let his ego control him. As a colleague, White was warm, joyful, highly intelligent, helpful and innovative, Stevenson said, emphasizing that White didn’t let little things bring him down.
White was passionate about teaching, said former student Jesse Stommel, who recalled the professor’s “intense curiosity,” a trait that appeared during lectures and particularly in conversation.
“I felt like in those conversations I was talking to a peer,” Stommel said. “It’s pretty rare to experience that as a student, to experience a teacher or mentor who really engages you in the conversation.”
Stommel took White’s seminar on Literature and the Fantastic. “He would help me see wondrous, amazing, thought-provoking things in places I wouldn’t expect to find them.”
Stommel said White had a special way of balancing being critical and incisive, and also taking pleasure in what he was focusing on. “He brought joy to critical thinking.”
White’s long-time friend Professor Nan Goodman added that, “Eric was a wonderful colleague, willing to engage seriously with ideas I might run by him, no matter how seemingly implausible. And he always saw things I missed. The English department is much the poorer without him.”
During his lifetime White traveled extensively in the British Isles, Continental Europe, East Asia, and North America. He particularly loved Hawaii, which he visited as often as he could, and the mountains above Boulder, where he lived for more than two decades.