Low Plaza

English Professor and Playwright Wallace Gray Dies in NYC at 74

By James Devitt

Wallace Gray

Wallace Gray, professor of English and comparative literature, playwright and leading authority on James Joyce's Ulysses, died on Dec. 21 in New York City at the age of 74.

Gray, Ph.D. '58, wrote more than 12 plays, including "Helen," an off-Broadway production that imagines Helen of Troy at age 40, back in Sparta 20 years after fleeing the city with Paris. The play was "tasteful, often amusing, and pleasantly scholarly," the New York Herald Tribune wrote in an opening-night review in Dec. 1964. His "The Cowboy and the Tiger" was at one time the longest-running musical for children in New York City's history.

Gray taught at Columbia from 1953 to 2001. For years, he captivated undergraduates at Columbia College, earning both the Great Teacher Award given by the Columbia College Alumni Association and the College's prestigious Mark Van Doren Award, given by its students for teaching excellence. Past and recent winners include Lionel Trilling, Wm. Theodore deBary, Kenneth Jackson and Simon Schama. One of Gray's popular courses, "Eliot, Joyce, Pound," attracted generations of devoted undergraduates, including George Stephanopoulos, former senior advisor to President Bill Clinton and current ABC News analyst, and Abbe Lowell, Democratic counsel.

"Let's be frank about this. I know more about Ulysses than anyone else in the world, and I'm going to teach it all to you," the New York Times reported Gray telling a class of more than 200 in the fall of 1985.

"Prof. Gray gave me a gift that will, literally, last a lifetime," said Stephanopoulos. "He taught me how to read literature."

Gray's published works included "From Homer to Joyce" (MacMillan 1985), a collection of 18 essays on works of literature. In addition to his teaching and playwriting, Gray was involved in campus theatrical productions and served as assistant dean of students at Columbia College.

In 1997, Gray was a co-recipient of Columbia College's Award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum, the College's courses on significant ideas and achievements in literature, philosophy, history, music, art and science. Gray was the teacher with the longest service in Literature Humanities, a Core Curriculum course that explores some of the most significant texts in Western culture.

Born July 13, 1927, in Alexandria, La., Gray served in the United States Navy from 1944 to 1946. He received a bachelor's degree from Louisiana College in 1946, a masters degree from Louisiana State University in 1951 and a doctorate from Columbia in 1958.

Gray is survived by his brother

Published: Jan 31, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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