Herbert R. Coursen Jr.

Herbert R. Coursen, Jr., longtime Bowdoin English professor and literary scholar, died on December 3, 2011, at his home in Brunswick, Maine.

He was born in Newark, N.J., on March 28, 1932, and graduated from Amherst College in 1954. He served in the Air Force from 1954 to 1958 as a captain and a fighter pilot before earning a master’s degree in English in 1962 from Wesleyan University, where he was a University Fellow. He went on to earn a doctorate in English from the University of Connecticut in 1965. He joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1964 and taught in the English department until 1992. He later taught at the University of Maine in Augusta. A widely published Shakespearean scholar, essayist and poet, he wrote 16 books and numerous articles and reviews on the interpretation and performance of Shakespeare’s works. He also wrote 35 novels and stories, and more than 30 collections of poetry. He maintained a passionate interest in baseball, politics, and writing throughout his life. He had served as Director of Education in Northeastern U.S. for the Shakespeare Globe Centre (London), and was a member of the Marlowe Society, the Shakespeare Association of America, the New England Poet’s Club, and Veterans for Peace. In 1970, he helped lead a weeks-long student strike at Bowdoin in opposition to the Vietnam War. He also staged a protest with fellow professor Henry Bird when the Navy planned to use Popham Beach as the site of a shorefront invasion exercise. An opinion piece he wrote opposing the exercise was published by the New York Times. He enjoyed playing jazz on the cornet, with his partner, Pamela Mount, on the piano. He is survived by three daughters, including Virginia Randolph Coursen, and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his partner of 20 years, Pamela Mount.

2 Comments Herbert R. Coursen Jr.

  1. Paul Batista

    I recall Herb Coursen so well. In 1966 when I entered Bowdoin as a scholarship student from New Bedford, Massachusetts, he encouraged my interest in literature and writing. He was a member of an English faculty that included stars such as Lawrence S. Hall, Howard Nemerov and Louis Coxe. Herb’s influence on me was such that over the years while practicing law and appearing on tv, I’ve written seven best selling novels. Above all, he was a fun loving man! Paul Batista.

  2. Todd Larson

    I fondly remember Herb Coursen for his unique contrast of iron-handedness one minute and gentleness the next, depending on when each was called for. The way he combined insistence with humor, especially on his Shakespeare course syllabi, was special as well. I considered taking one of his Shakespeare classes, and to this day wish I had. But I did get to take his Advanced Composition course at the end of my senior year at Bowdoin, and the way I was admitted to it was interesting. At first he denied me admission because I hadn’t heeded his prerequisite of “Consent of the instructor,” and he very bluntly told me a truth I keep in mind to this very day: “Writers write.” After I sent him some writing samples and a letter asking for reconsideration for the course, he admitted me. The course was a challenge, but I learned a lot from it about having a clear reason for involving my readers in a story or poem, and he liked my final story assignment. Herb Coursen was a great teacher, and I wish I had gotten to know him better, but to this day he inspires me to read and study Shakespeare. Thank you, Herb. Rest in peace.


Add a Reminiscence:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *