It is with great sadness that the Barnard community mourns the passing of Saskia Hamilton, Professor of English and Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Curriculum.
Saskia joined Barnard’s English Department in 2002 and has been a cherished colleague, offering her kindness, energy, and intellect to all those in her orbit. An accomplished poet and editor, she used beautiful words to limn grief and loss, and so it is a particular challenge for me to describe my sadness at her death.
In one of the poems in her forthcoming collection, All Souls, Saskia wrote of her work as an editor, describing how she “spent the hours that season/in a basement library magnifying/Bishop’s hand ten times to read the word/‘tidal.’” That evocative image captures Saskia’s approach to all of her work and relationships; she brought attention and care to others’ ideas, and she made certain that she understood their words.
A sensitive and astute editor of other poets’ work, Saskia was also an extraordinary poet in her own right. Her poems are, to quote one of them, “at play with instability,” alive to the details of the quotidian. They ask us to notice “those arcadian hours we make together.” In charting small everyday moments, they call our attention to the beauty of the ordinary world.
As an editor of the letters of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Elizabeth Hardwick, Saskia offered readers of American literature invaluable context for their poems, and as an advisory editor at The Paris Review, she shaped the landscape of contemporary poetry. Her work was recognized by the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, the Modern Language Association’s Morton N. Cohen Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters; these are just some of the many honors that she received in her career as a poet and editor.
As a faculty member, Saskia worked to make Barnard a stronger academic community, teaching courses in poetry and editing and directing Women Poets at Barnard. Her work was recognized and supported by fellowships from the Ruth Lilly Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was an indefatigable participant in College life and an award-winning teacher who always made herself available for service to this community where it mattered.
I knew Saskia best through her work as Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Curriculum, a role she assumed in July 2018. She was an extraordinary colleague to everyone in the Provost’s Office and across the College and University, and an especially close friend to me. Whether advising on the academic policy changes that kept our College classes up and running during the pandemic or helping me personally to pen the numerous correspondences to our community during that tumultuous time, Saskia was my partner. She was tireless in her advocacy and support for faculty and for students, stewarding Barnard’s academic curriculum and coordinating new programs and initiatives. Barnard College is a more intellectually rich and exciting place due to her ideas, efforts, and gentle leadership.
Saskia dealt with the challenge of a devastating illness with characteristic grace, continuing to work alongside all of us. She was an extraordinary mother to her beautiful son Lucien and a devoted daughter, sister, and friend. Words are inadequate to capture our love for her in life and our sadness at her passing. We will think of her often as we continue to feel the space left by her passing.
In shared sorrow,
Linda A. Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty