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M.H. "Mike" Abrams.

M.H. 'Mike' Abrams: An appreciation

M.H. "Mike" Abrams, the influential literary critic and beloved Cornell English professor who edited the renowned reference "The Norton Anthology of English Literature" for four decades, died April 21 in Ithaca at age 102.

Abrams, who received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama last July, was the Class of 1916 Professor Emeritus of English. He came to Cornell in 1945 as an assistant professor and retired in 1983, though he remained an active member of the Cornell and Ithaca communities.


Abrams in 1971. Image: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. See larger image

Among his students were literary critics Harold Bloom '51 and E.D. Hirsch '50 and novelist Thomas Pynchon '59. Abrams was named the F.J. Whiton Professor of English in 1960 and the Class of 1916 Professor in 1973.

See the Cornell Chronicle's obituary at and the College of Arts and Sciences' tribute site at

"One of the dominant figures in literary criticism of the 20th century, M.H. 'Mike' Abrams was also the quintessential Cornellian. He was an inspiring teacher, an extraordinary colleague, chair of the Cornell University Centennial Commission of 1965, and he never missed a home football game. His good judgment, his perennial optimism, his deep wisdom, his sense of humor and his fundamental decency will be sorely missed."

– President David Skorton

"Mike Abrams' impact on his students, his colleagues and the wider world was immeasurable – he was publishing important new work at age 100. His passing is a deep loss to the College of Arts and Sciences and to all of us who love literature."

– Gretchen Ritter '83, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

"I've been hearing about Mike literally since I was a baby, as he was the favorite teacher of both my mother and father. I studied at Yale with Harold Bloom ['51], who also revered Mike. Since coming to Cornell I've taken every opportunity I could to bring Mike to my classes.

National Humanities Medal

The National Humanities Medal, which Abrams received in 2014. Image: Provided. See larger image

"His book 'The Fourth Dimension of a Poem' was published just after Mike turned 100, and he celebrated that birthday by delivering the title lecture to a rapt audience of friends, students and colleagues. Mike Abrams thus vividly exemplified how a life of engagement with literature, the arts and the humanities can keep the mind vigorously alive.

"His teaching has been inspiring a new generation of students, and I'm sure it will continue to do so for a long time to come."

– Roger Gilbert, professor and chair of English

"Mike Abrams was a formidable figure in the humanities, author of two superb and wide-ranging books – 'The Mirror and the Lamp' and 'Natural Supernaturalism' – that changed our understanding of 19th-century literature and thought. But he was also a calm, modest and wholly unpretentious man, a great fan of Cornell football, and a benign presence for students, colleagues and friends. He will be greatly missed."

– Jonathan Culler, the Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, who holds Abrams' former chair

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