Professor George Stade


George Stade (1933-2019)

The Department of English and Comparative Literature is saddened by the passing of our longtime colleague George Stade, on February 26, 2019.  We are grateful to his daughter Nancy Stade for permission to publish the following notice of her father.

George Stade, a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University for thirty-six years, passed away on February 26, 2019, in Silver Spring MD. He was 85. 

Stade specialized in 20th-century British and American literature, and taught courses in modern and postmodern American fiction, 20th-century British fiction, British and American poetry, Humanities, and modern criticism. Stade had room in his literary pantheon for not only James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Samuel Beckett, but also Dashiell Hammett, Bram Stoker, Stephen King and practitioners of other genres held in low esteem by the Academy. Probably because of his unapologetic enjoyment of lowbrow literature, Stade's course on the postmodern American novel, known colloquially as “shit lit,” was highly sought-after by students. Stade’s eclectic and subversive literary tastes were part of the persona he crafted: tall, handsome, imposing, he wore jeans to his lectures and sometimes lit a smoke in the middle of one. Though he spent his career teaching some of the great literary achievements of Western civilization, in his way, Stade distrusted Western civilization and he wanted you to know it.  

Stade’s embrace of the disreputable was one of the things that made Stade a beloved and controversial figure at Columbia, and the Society of Columbia Graduates awarded him the Great Teachers Award in 1996.  His popularity among students did not extend to all faculty, however; many faulted Stade along with other Department veterans for resisting diversification of the faculty and curriculum. Nonetheless, after he retired in 2000, his time as a professor of English at Columbia remained the defining point of his career. 

Stade was born to George Comins and Eva Aaronsen Comins on November 25, 1933. Mr Comins abandoned the family before Stade’s second year, and Stade spent the next several years with his mother in her native country of Sweden. Kurt Stade, a hairdresser from Germany accompanied them until the war drove them back to the United States in 1939.  Kurt and Eva opened a successful beauty parlor on West 96th Street, and married in 1941.  George assumed the last name "Stade" in 1945.

Stade spent most of the rest of his life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  In his teenage years he worked construction, formed a street gang, and attended Haaren High School, a “dismal all boys school.” He then went to the City College of New York for a year, but transferred to St. Lawrence University at the urging of his mother, who was concerned about the company he was keeping.  It was at St. Lawrence that he met the brilliant and eccentric Dorothy “Dolly” Stade.  They married in 1956 and would remain together until her death in 2013.

Stade graduated St. Lawrence University in 1955, received his M.A. from Columbia University in 1958, and received his PhD in English at Columbia University in 1965 after defending his dissertation, “Robert Graves on Poetry.” He taught at Columbia for the duration of his academic career. 

Stade published regularly in both academic and popular publications. He wrote four novels, Confessions of a Lady-Killer, Sex and Violence: A Love Story, Love is War, and Swimming Through the Flotsam in Which we Live and Have Our Being, as well as a collection of essays, and numerous articles, reviews, and introductions for journals such as Partisan Review, The New York Review of Books, Hudson Review, Paris Review, Harper's Magazine,Nation, New Republic, and The New York Times Book Review. He acted as the Consulting Editor Director of Barnes and Noble Classics and Editor-in-Chief of Scribner's British Writers series and the fourteen-volume European Writers series.

Following Dolly’s death in 2013, George’s daughters coerced him into leaving his beloved New York City for reasons that were only partially selfish.  It’s not clear whether he ever forgave them, but they are nonetheless grateful for the time they had with him.

The cause of Stade’s death was pneumonia.

He is survived by his four children, Bjorn “Barry” Stade, Eric Stade, Nancy Stade, and Kirsten Stade, and three grandchildren, Jack, Nick, and Ursula Stade.  

The family is planning a serviceat Columbia University in Fall 2019, at a date to be determined.  Those interested in attending can reach out to his daughters, Nancy Stade, [email protected] and Kirsten Stade, [email protected].

Please find George Stade's obituaries in The New York Times and The Washington Post.