Amy Kaplan, 66, a longtime professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, an author, and a scholar of American studies, died Thursday, July 30, of glioblastoma at her home in Philadelphia.
Known for her kindness as well as her intellect, her love of travel and education, and her prowess in the kitchen as well as the classroom, Professor Kaplan left a mark on the lives of her students, friends, and family that none say they can forget.
“She made everyone feel at home,” said her longtime partner, Paul Statt. “She wore her intellect very lightly, but she was deep and profound. She married her intellect and emotional life so well that people reacted to her. She was a real mensch.”
Professor Kaplan was born in New York City and grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. She graduated from Brandeis University and got a Ph.D. in English at Johns Hopkins University.
She taught first at Yale University and then at Mount Holyoke College. She was president of the American Studies Association from 2003 to 2004.
She lived in Amherst, Mass., for 20 years and raised her daughter, Rose, with her former husband, Harvey Weiss. She had been the Edward Kane Professor of English at Penn for the last 14 years, and was department chair from 2013 to 2016. She was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2011-12.
Professor Kaplan edited and wrote several books and essays, and according to her biography on the Penn website, was interested in many social and political topics.
“Amy Kaplan focused in her teaching and scholarship on the culture of imperialism, comparative perspectives on the Americas, prison writing, the American novel, and mourning, memory, and war,” the biography reads. She was “a wide-ranging critic of contemporary American culture and policy.”
Her friends and colleagues also remember her warm and humble personality; memorable trips around the world, and just around the corner; her love of fresh flowers, jigsaw puzzles, and her dog Milo; and her skill at both winning at Scrabble and thoughtfully advising friends on problems that had them vexed.
“She was a fierce presence with a delighted laugh,” Judith Frank, a friend and professor of English at Amherst College, wrote in a tribute. “Amy was ... an extraordinary thinker and writer whose work on the culture of U.S. imperialism transformed the field and will resonate for generations of scholars to come.”
Professor Kaplan met Statt in 2002 in Amherst while she was teaching at Mount Holyoke. They had seen each other at a yoga class but didn’t connect until they were introduced by a friend. Statt was looking for more of a summer fling than a lifelong bond, but couldn’t help himself.
On one of their early outings, looking to impress her with his sophistication, Statt took Professor Kaplan to the Cummington, Mass., boyhood home of William Cullen Bryant, a famous poet and newspaper editor in the 1800s.
“She knew a lot more about him than I did,” Statt said. “I was the one impressed. She loved to travel, but she was never a tourist. Whenever she went places, she wanted to meet people, see things. She always wanted to explore."
In addition to her daughter, partner, and former husband, Professor Kaplan is survived by her mother, Eunice Kaplan; stepdaughter Molly Statt; a sister; a brother; nieces and nephews; and great-nephews.