Adair, Virginia Hamilton 1913-2004

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ADAIR, Virginia Hamilton 1913-2004

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born February 28, 1913, in New York, NY; died September 16, 2004, in Claremont, CA. Educator and author. Adair was a poet who is often remembered for the simple fact that she did not publish a verse collection until she was eighty-three years of age. The daughter of poet Robert Browning Hamilton, she was educated at Mount Holyoke College, where she earned a B.A. in 1933, and at Radcliffe College, where she earned her master's degree two years later. While in her twenties, she began publishing poems in magazines such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, and the Saturday Review of Literature, but after marrying history professor and author Douglass G. Adair in 1937 she was content to be a wife and mother. Adair started teaching in 1948 at the College of William and Mary, leaving that college in 1951 and not teaching again until 1957, when she joined the faculty at California State Polytechnic University. During all these years, Adair continued to write poetry, though she did not attempt to publish her works for a couple of reasons. One reason was that her husband, who had gained acclaim as a writer at age twenty-five, had found the attention to be a burden, and Adair did not wish to have her literary achievements interfering with her personal life and the raising of her three children. Nevertheless, over the ensuing decades she found satisfaction in writing thousands of poems. Shortly after her husband committed suicide in 1968—an act she would later say was partially attributable to the negative psychological effects of his early fame—Adair left teaching altogether. She found solace in Buddhism and even established a Zen center on Mt. Baldy in California. After she was invited by friend Robert Mezey to speak at Pomona College in 1982, Mezey convinced her to go through her writings and select poems for a collection. She finally did so, years later, collecting about eighty verses into her first book, Ants on theMelon: A Collection of Poems (1996). The collection was a remarkable bestseller—especially considering the low sales typical of poetry books—and sold about seventy thousand copies. Much of the critical reaction was positive as well, though some reviewers suspected that at least some of Adair's fame came from the fact that she was an octogenarian newcomer and that her husband's shocking suicide also attracted reader interest. Adair published only two more books: Belief and Blasphemies: A Collection of Poems (1998) and Living on Fire: A Collection of Poems (2000). While still garnering solid reviews, these books did not get as much attention as her debut. Adair remained unconcerned about critical opinion of her work, however, and continued to happily write in her one-bedroom apartment into her nineties, over a decade after glaucoma had robbed her of her sight.



Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2004, p. B16. New York Times, September 18, 2004, p. A13. Washington Post, September 20, 2004, p. B5.