Hal Wylie

Hal Wylie was 86 years old when he passed away on June 23, 2022. He had grown up in the Bronx and Yonkers, New York, until 1947, when his family moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he attended Tucson High School and the University of Arizona, graduating with a BA in 1957. He had married Karen Lott a year earlier, and they remained in Tucson while Hal worked as an Assistant Experiment Station Editor at the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture until 1959, when they moved to California so he could begin graduate studies in French at Stanford University. He earned an MA there in 1961, writing a thesis on “The Novelistic Vision of François Mauriac,” and he completed his doctorate four years later on “Machine Imagery in French Literature to 1900: the Music of the Cogs.” Even before the dissertation was done, in 1964 he had started teaching in the French Department of the University of Texas at Austin, where he eventually introduced the first undergraduate and graduate courses on Francophone African and Caribbean Literatures.

In addition to his academic career, Hal in his earliest years in Austin was involved in many other activities as well, including photography, sailing, journalism, and especially politics. He was co-chair of the short-lived New Party in 1968 and later a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (a predecessor of Democratic Socialists of America). He was involved in campaigning and fundraising for a number of local Democratic candidates. In 1971 he was cofounder and coeditor of The Gar, a small “underground” paper that began as a monthly attempt to cover the local cultural and political scene. The Gar brought out 32 issues between 1971 and 1978, some of which focused on his new literary interests and included original contributions by Dennis Brutus, Bessie Head and others.

Hal and Karen had four sons but decided to divorce in 1970. A year later Hal married Carolyn Cates and their son Dennis was born in 1978.

Hal was one of the founders of the African Literature Association, having served on the campus committee that organized the inaugural ALA conference held in Austin in 1975 under the leadership of Dennis Brutus, who was then serving as a visiting professor of African and African American Studies. He and Hal became good friends and collaborated in a number of anti-apartheid activities over the years. Teamwork was also a hallmark of Hal’s efficient editing of contributions to ALA publications. He coedited four annual volumes of selected conference papers: When the Drumbeat Changes (1981), Contemporary African Literature (1983), African Literature, 1988: New Masks (1990), and Multiculturalism & Hybridity of African Literatures (2000). And he served as General Editor of the ALA from 1990-94, supervising various additional projects.

Hal was also a productive scholar. His earliest published articles were on Alain Robbe Grillet and André Breton, probably offshoots of his dissertation, but by mid-career he was focusing his publications mainly on prominent Francophone African and Caribbean writers such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ousmane Sembène, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Maryse Condé, René Depestre, and Édouard Glissant. Between 1989 and 2001 he published 33 reviews on Caribbean literary works in World Literature Today, most of them written by new authors. Hal enjoyed sharing his ideas and opinions with others at annual ALA conferences and was one of the founders of the ALA’s Francophone Caucus. A respected and popular elder, he was elected President of the ALA in 2004.

Hal retired from teaching in 2000. After a lifelong struggle with asthma/COPD, he also developed heart disease, and in the end the combination was more than he could overcome. He will be remembered fondly by his many students, colleagues, and friends.

Carolyn Wylie and Bernth Lindfors