Ulla Dydo (1925–2017)

Ulla Dydo © 2009 by Star Black. Used by permission.

Ulla Dydo, the preeminent Gertrude Stein scholar of our time, died on September 10, 2017 in New York. 

Ursula Elisabeth Eder was born in Zurich on February 4, 1925. Her mother was Jeanne Eder-Schwyzer (1894–1957), a Swiss women’s rights activist and president of the International Council of Women. Her father was Professor Robert Eder (1885–1944). Dydo is survived by her wife, new music pianist Nurit Tilles (whom she met more than a decade ago); a son, Malcolm, from her first marriage to economist John Stephen Dydo (1922–2004) (whom she married in Manhattan in 1963 — the marriage dissolved within a decade); and a grandaughter. 

Dydo attended the University of Zurich (1944–45), where she majored in English, as well as University College, London (1946) and received an MA at Bryn Mawr in 1948. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from 1948 to 1952, getting her PhD in 1955. Her dissertation was on the poetry of Allen Tate. 

Dydo taught English and history at Brearley, a New York private girl’s high school, in 1954–55, and was an instructor in English at Vassar from 1955–58, where she met noted Stein scholar Leon Katz, who remained a lifelong friend. One of her first published articles was on e.e. cummings’s Him in 1957 in The Vasser Chronicle. In 1958, she was appointed assistant professor of English at Brooklyn College, getting tenure in 1961.

From 1961–62, Dydo was the European editor of Odyssey Review, and a founder of its publisher, the Latin American and European Literary Society, along with her Brooklyn College colleague Saul Galin and Gregory Rabassa and Alan Purves at Columbia. Odyssey Review published her translations of Michael Butor and Ilse Aichinger.

In 1964, on a sabbatical, she spent a year in Kadmu, Nigeria, where her husband was an advisor to the Ministry of Economic Planning. During this time, she learned Hausa and did fieldwork on Hausa poetry and music and created radio programs on modern African poetry. She spent 1966–69 in Lagos, where she wrote the Guide to the Nigerian Museum.

After returning to the United States from Nigeria, she was appointed assistant professor at Bronx Community College in 1970, getting tenure in 1977. She also served as adjunct professor of Humanities at the Manhattan School of Music (NY) from 1974–1977. 

By the late 1970s, Dydo’s focus turned to Gertrude Stein, whose work would be at the center of her research and writing for the rest of her life. She worked closely with Bill Rice and Edward Burns. She offered support and advice to many young Stein scholars. In 1993, she published A Stein Reader, the best introduction to Stein works, notable both for the selections and the illuminating headnotes. Because of Dydo’s extensive research on the Stein papers at the Beinicke (Yale), she was able to provide detailed textual scholarship about individual Stein works. This kind of textual and contextual framing had not previously been available. All this culminated in Dydo’s major work, Gertrude Stein: The Language that Rises 1923–1934, which was published in 1996.

In the 1980s and after, Dydo frequently went to downtown poetry readings, dance, theater, and music events and she was a generous supporter of related arts organizations. Her later work also turned to the poetry of Cecil Taylor.

Dydo’s work transformed Stein scholarship and brought her the affection and admiration of the many scholars engaged with Stein. 

Publications (partial): Dydo’s three books in boldface

“How to Read Gertrude Stein: The Manuscript of ‘Stanzas in Meditation,’” in TEXT: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarshipedited by D.C. Greetham and W. Speed Hill, vol. I (1981), 271–303.

“To Make a Sentence In Vincennes,” unpublished lecture presented at the 1984 Modern Language Association (Washington, DC).

“To Have the Winning Language: Texts and Contexts of Gertrude Stein,” in Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook and Marilyn Yalom (University of Michigan Press, 1985), 58–73. 

“Must Horses Drink. Or,  ‘Any Language Is Funny If You Don’t Understand It’” (book review, Of Huck and Alice: Humorous Writing in American Literature, by Neil Schmitz), Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 272–80.

Stanzas in Meditation: The Other Autobiography,” Chicago Review 35, no. 2 (Winter 1985): 4–20.

“Landscape Is Not Grammar: Gertrude Stein in 1928,” Raritan: A Quarterly Review 7, no. 1 (Summer 1987): 97–113.

“Reading the Hand Writing: The Manuscripts of Gertrude Stein,” in A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example, edited by Bruce Kellner (Greenwood Press, 1988), 84–95.  

“Gertrude Stein: Composition as Meditation,” in Gertrude Stein and the Making of, edited by Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel (Macmillan Press, 1988), 42–60. 

“Words as Pieces Words in Pieces,” paper presented October 14 1989, St. Mark’s Poetry Project, NY, Gertrude Stein Day; West Coast Line: A Journal of Contemporary Writing and Criticism, no. 3 (Winter 1990): 30–37. 

A Stein Reader: Edited and with an introduction by Ulla E. Dydo (Northwestern University Press, 1993).

“Stop Look and Listen: A Digression on the Picture of a Page of Gertrude Stein,” Big Allis 6 (1993): 15–27.

“Peter Quartermain, Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe” (book review), Modern Philology: A Journal Devoted to Research in Medieval and Modern Literature 92, no. 3 (February 1995): 390–94, The University of Chicago Press.  

The Letters of Gertrude Stein & Thornton Wilder, edited by Edward M. Burns and Ulla E. Dydo with William Rice (Yale University Press, 1996).

“Soundzimpossible,” unpublished lecture on Cecil Taylor, presented at White Box Gallery (New York, c. 2002). 

“Picasso and Alice,” text by Ulla E. Dydo, photograph by Richard Tuttle with the assistance of D. James Dee, Nest Magazine 19 (Winter 2002–2003). 

Gertrude Stein: The Language that Rises 1923–1934 by Ulla E. Dydo with William Rice (Northwestern University Press, 2003).

A Letter on Cecil Taylor, Shuffle Boil 5/6 (2006), 9.

“Two Notes on Stein Textual Scholarship” (November 2001), reprinted with “Plenty More Stein Work” (March 24, 2006): Electronic Poetry Center.

Editor, PennSound Stein page.

Introduction to Let George Do It: Nine Drawings and Paintings, George Deem (Post-Apollo Press, 2009).

Essay about Bill Rice in Bill Rice: Paintings and Works on Paper, SHFAP 9 (Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects, 2011).